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Majority of US personnel in Middle East could be vaccinated by early April, CENTCOM says

U.S. Army Col. Scott Desormeaux receives a coronavirus vaccine at Erbil Air Base, Iraq on Jan. 18, 2021. U.S. Central Command has shipped both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to the Middle East and expects 26,000 more Johnson & Johnson doses by the end of March, officials said.

NOSHOBA DAVIS / U.S. ARMY NATIONAL GUARD

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 25, 2021

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KABUL, Afghanistan — An large batch of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine heading to the Middle East and Afghanistan could allow U.S. Central Command to inoculate most overseas personnel who want the shots by early April, military officials said Thursday.

About 26,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are expected to arrive at overseas bases in the next couple of weeks, CENTCOM officials said. The new batch follows a shipment of 20,000 doses that arrived earlier this month.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85% effective in preventing severe or critical cases of COVID-19 at least 28 days after vaccination, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which authorized the vaccine for emergency use in late February.

About 20,000 military and civilian personnel in CENTCOM, or about 35% of the eligible population, have completed vaccinations with either the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccine, command spokeswoman Lt. Col. Karen Roxberry said.

That includes 3,600 personnel in Afghanistan, 2,900 in Iraq and Syria, and 460 at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Roxberry said in a statement.

Troops and civilian personnel in Afghanistan first received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on March 15, NATO Resolute Support said. Inoculations with the two-shot Moderna vaccine began in mid-January.

Military and civilian DOD personnel are eligible for the vaccine, the statement said, in addition to coalition and military members working with or training under U.S. advisers. Troops will continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.

The initial batches of vaccine prioritized those supporting operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

“We expect to fully finish vaccinating those troops soon,” Roxberry said. Those in other parts of CENTCOM will have increased access when more than 5,000 doses arrive in Qatar before the end of March, she added.

Prior to the arrival of the latest batch of vaccines, the Qatar government offered 5,000 doses from their supply to troops at Al Udeid Air Base a few weeks ago out of “goodwill and generosity,” said Brig. Mohamed Al Nassr, security attache for the Qatari embassy.

U.S. military officials said they appreciated the gift but have enough doses of their own to vaccinate everyone in the region who wants it, Roxberry said in the statement.

The U.S. declined the vaccines despite shortages, delays and vaccine appointment cancellations at some bases in Europe in recent weeks.

More than 170,000 service members and about 90,000 combined family members, civilians and contractors have tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday, the Defense Department’s coronavirus website reported.

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A medical airman at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar administers a coronavirus vaccine in an undated photo. U.S. Central Command has shipped both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to the Middle East and expects 26,000 more Johnson & Johnson doses by the end of March, officials said.
BRIGETTE WALTERMIRE / U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD