Active duty troops deploy to mass vaccinate Californians

The federal government will send hundreds of active duty troops to California in the coming weeks to help bolster the administration of vaccines in the state.

Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser for coronavirus response, said Friday that the Department of Defense had approved the request for the first contingent in what could ultimately be a deployment of thousands of members of the military to staff new mass coronavirus vaccination sites across the country.

“The military’s critical role in supporting sites will help vaccinate thousands of people per day and ensure that every American who wants a vaccine will receive one,” Slavitt said during a press briefing.

The Biden administration announced this week that it plans to establish 100 mass vaccination sites nationwide over the next few months, with the first two expected to be running by mid-February at the Oakland Coliseum and California State University Los Angeles.

State officials expect the Coliseum site to ultimately deliver up to 6,000 doses per day, with a focus on expanding vaccine access to underserved communities.

At least one of those California sites, which will be overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is set to receive a team of 222 troops from across the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps in the next 10 days, according to the Department of Defense. The team will include 80 vaccinators, 57 clinical staff and 15 registered nurses, among other personnel.

FEMA’s total request is for 10,000 troops to support the planned 100 mass vaccination sites. The Department of Defense on Thursday approved the first group of 1,100 to help staff five sites, including the team that has already been announced in California.

John Kirby, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, said during a briefing Friday that he did not know whether the Oakland or the Los Angeles vaccination site would receive the military assistance, nor where the other four teams will go.

FEMA did not respond to questions seeking clarification.

“We will be partnering with the DOD for additional resources at federally supported sites throughout the country,” a spokesperson said in an email.

The effort is part of a broader strategy by the Biden administration to lean on its military powers to bulk up the country’s sputtering coronavirus response.

Tim Manning, the national supply chain coordinator for coronavirus response, said Friday that the federal government was also invoking the Defense Production Act to increase manufacturing of vaccines, at-home coronavirus tests and protective gloves.

A limited supply of doses has been one of the biggest constraints to the vaccination rollout in California and across the country. Manning said the Biden administration would give Pfizer a priority rating to secure critical equipment, including filling pumps, removing a bottleneck on vaccine manufacturing.

“It’s actions like these that will allow Pfizer to ramp up production and hit their targets of delivering hundreds of millions of doses over the coming months,” Manning said.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated that the federal government would send troops to staff mass vaccination sites in both Oakland and Los Angeles. It is unclear which California site will receive assistance.


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