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COVID-19 vaccination underway for US military in Afghanistan

Doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived in Afghanistan on Jan. 17 and inoculation began the next day, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan said.

VINCENT DE GROOT/IOWA AIR NATIONAL GUARD

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 23, 2021

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KABUL, Afghanistan – The U.S. military began vaccinating personnel in Afghanistan against COVID-19 this week.

Doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived in theater Jan. 17 and inoculation began the next day, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan said in a statement Friday.

The vaccine was given to people who have jobs with increased likelihood of contracting COVID-19 and to people with conditions that place them at high risk should they contract the virus, the statement said.

U.S. Forces in Afghanistan will continue to mandate social distancing and mask wearing for the roughly 2,500 troops and more than 18,000 contractors in the country.

“Our goal, as supplies become more readily available, is to vaccinate all US servicemembers, civilians and contractors in Afghanistan who are willing to receive the vaccine,” the statement said.

U.S. officials declined to discuss how many troops in Afghanistan have tested positive for the coronavirus, citing a Pentagon directive to stop announcing local case figures.

The military overall has had 18 service members die from coronavirus, including an airman from Aviano, and more than 130,000 contract the virus, according to the Pentagon. An additional 54 contractors and 145 Department of Defense civilians also died from COVID-19, DOD said.

Over the last year, the coronavirus pandemic halted face-to-face advising between the U.S. and their Afghan partners. An outbreak of the virus in Operating Base Fenty, near the city of Jalalabad, led to a majority of the roughly 300 Ugandan guards there testing positive for the coronavirus last summer.

Coronavirus-related travel restrictions also left some foreign contractors stuck on U.S. bases for months without pay, workers told Stars and Stripes in July and August. The issue of contractors awaiting repatriation was resolved in December, the Pentagon said in a report this week.

The Moderna vaccine provided by Central Command to troops in Afghanistan is one of two approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in mid-December.

The plan is for overseas installations to receive the Moderna vaccine while troops stationed in America will get the Pfizer vaccine, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said in December before a Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel.

lawrence.jp@stripes.com
Twitter: @jplawrence3