The Department of Defense aims to administer just under 44,000 doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine within 24 to 48 hours of authorization for emergency use. U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials have said they will make a decision soon after they hear from an advisory committee which meets Thursday.
The vaccine will be distributed through 16 DOD installations, 13 in the U.S and three overseas. The facilities selected are in California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington, director of the Defense Health Agency Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place said in a news conference Wednesday.
Each location was selected to be part of the DOD’s control pilot program for vaccine distribution. The installations selected have sizable populations to receive the vaccine, ample medical staff and the cold storage capabilities required, Place explained. Health care workers and high-risk people at these locations will be inoculated first.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery said some senior leaders will also receive the vaccine “as one way of helping to message the safety and efficacy, and underscore that we are encouraging all those eligible personnel to take the vaccine.”
The emergency use authorization would prohibit the vaccine from being administered to anyone who doesn’t want to take it. But DOD officials are optimistic that their 11 million personnel will have faith in the FDA.
“Everything we do in life, every medication that we take, every surgical procedure that we have is all about risk,” Place said. “And the risk of these vaccines, from what we know, is much less than the risk of the actual disease process.”
If the FDA authorizes the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use, attention turns to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will review the vaccine and then decide who gets the vaccine first and how.
“As soon as the FDA issues an emergency use authorization, DOD’s allocation will be pre-positioned at our initial locations,” McCaffery said. “We expect to have shots in arms of DoD personnel within 20-48 hours from the time the [CDC] issues its final recommendation.”
But this first wave of inoculations isn’t so much to stop the spread as much as it is to iron out any distribution issues. The 44,000 doses will only treat about 9% of the DOD’s high-risk individuals. This will demonstrate whether the distribution process works, or doesn’t. If things go well, the DOD has hundreds of sites all over the world that can be used to distribute a vaccine once production increases.
The DOD has fared well with the coronavirus compared to the rest of the country. It’s had just under 131,000 cases and only 143 deaths. The enforcement of protective measures and travel restrictions have allowed American forces to maintain combat readiness, McCaffery said.
Many service members are young and in good health, which means they will be some of the last to receive the vaccine. Once health care workers and high-risk populations have been treated, individuals involved in critical national capability positions will receive the vaccine.