Maj. Jodi Brown, Chief of Public Health at the California Medical Detachment, prepares syringes for the paramedics administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, March 23, 2021.
Maj. Jodi Brown, Chief of Public Health at the California Medical Detachment, prepares syringes for the paramedics administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, March 23, 2021. (Photo Credit: Cynthia McIntyre) VIEW ORIGINAL

Nearly 68% of active duty personnel have been vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one dose. But that still leaves many service members vulnerable to the delta variant of the virus, health officials at the Pentagon said.

Due to the effectiveness of the Defense Department's ongoing vaccination program, COVID-19 case counts across the department are dropping and installation commanders have been reducing local health protection conditions, or HPCON levels, Dr. Terry Adirim, the acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said during a press briefing today at the Pentagon.

"However, the delta variant poses a threat to that return to normal," Adirim said. "We are particularly concerned with the impact of the delta variant on our unvaccinated or partially vaccinated population, and its potential spread at installations that are located in parts of the country with low vaccination rates."

According to the military health system, the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is more transmittable, causes more severe disease, and results in higher cases of hospitalization and death than any other strain of the virus.

"The pandemic is not over, and we are not done with our all-out efforts to encourage vaccination." - Dr. Terry Adirim, acting assistant secretary of defense, Health Affairs

The DOD has an active whole genome sequencing program in place to identify what strain of the virus is present in those who test positive for COVID-19, Adirim said.

"We're closely watching our DOD case counts, positivity rates and the prevalence of the delta variant among all the other variants of concern," she said. "We anticipate that health protection conditions could change at some of our installations in the future based on outbreaks that result from the high transmutability of the delta variant."

(FARKE AIRFILED, Albania) --- Spc. Elizabeth Porter, a field medic with the 1-131st Aviation Regiment, swabs a soldier’s nose for a Covid-19 test, May 16, 2021. Every soldier participating in Defender Europe 21 must take multiple tests to ensure safety for everyone involved in the operation. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Jaccob Hearn)
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (FARKE AIRFILED, Albania) --- Spc. Elizabeth Porter, a field medic with the 1-131st Aviation Regiment, swabs a soldier’s nose for a Covid-19 test, May 16, 2021. Every soldier participating in Defender Europe 21 must take multiple tests to ensure safety for everyone involved in the operation. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Jaccob Hearn) (Photo Credit: Sgt. Jaccob Hearn) VIEW ORIGINAL
U.S. Army Sgt. Kendra Hallett, left, receives the Covid-19 vaccine from U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Deborah Macalalad 108th Medical Group, New Jersey Air National Guard, on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Feb. 21, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Sgt. Kendra Hallett, left, receives the Covid-19 vaccine from U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Deborah Macalalad 108th Medical Group, New Jersey Air National Guard, on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Feb. 21, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht) (Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Matt Hecht) VIEW ORIGINAL
U.S. Army Spc. Brandon Hatfield, right, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, and a healthcare specialist from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), prepares his work station before administering vaccines to local community members at the state-run, federally-supported Wolstein Community Vaccination Center in Cleveland, March 22, 2021. Hatfield said that he feels humbled be part of such an important mission. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing continued, flexible Department of Defense support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the whole-of-government response to COVID-19. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert O’Steen, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Spc. Brandon Hatfield, right, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, and a healthcare specialist from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), prepares his work station before administering vaccines to local community members at the state-run, federally-supported Wolstein Community Vaccination Center in Cleveland, March 22, 2021. Hatfield said that he feels humbled be part of such an important mission. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, remains committed to providing continued, flexible Department of Defense support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the whole-of-government response to COVID-19. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert O’Steen, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment) (Photo Credit: Sgt. Robert OSteen) VIEW ORIGINAL

The more virulent delta variant is spreading quickly through communities with lower vaccination rates, she said, and it is likely to become the predominant variant in the United States.

"The delta variant poses a threat to our service members who are not fully vaccinated," Adirim said. "The best way to beat the delta variant is to be fully vaccinated."

Studies have shown that one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is only about 33% effective against the delta variant, while two doses are at least 88% effective, Adirim said.

"We are investing great effort into ensuring our service members and other beneficiaries get both doses," she said. "So the bottom line is: get vaccinated, they are safe and effective."

Across the entire Defense Department, including military personnel, family members, civilians and contractors, there have been 303,000 cases of COVID-19 and 355 deaths related to the disease.

Right now, there are about 21 individuals hospitalized for COVID-19 in DOD facilities, Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director of Defense Health Agency, said.

"This is a decline from a peak of 240 inpatients on January 8 of this year, essentially the lowest point we've had since the earliest days of the pandemic," Place said.

A Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card Nov. 13, 2020, in Washington D.C.  The cards will be sent out as part of vaccination kits from Operation Warp Speed, which is an effort by several U.S. government components and public partnerships to facilitate the development, manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)
A Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card Nov. 13, 2020, in Washington D.C. The cards will be sent out as part of vaccination kits from Operation Warp Speed, which is an effort by several U.S. government components and public partnerships to facilitate the development, manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom) (Photo Credit: EJ Hersom) VIEW ORIGINAL

If those who have not yet been vaccinated need further proof of the vaccine's effectiveness, Place said, it's the status of those currently hospitalized within the military's health system. Of the 21 COVID-positive individuals in DOD hospitals, he said, none of them are vaccinated.

"As we approach Independence Day, all indicators within the Department of Defense are moving in a positive direction," he said. "We thank our service members and DOD personnel who have been vaccinated and continue to strongly encourage our remaining service members, DOD retirees, all of their families, and DOD staff to get vaccinated — for themselves, for their families and for the community."