80% of overseas military medical beneficiaries to receive coronavirus vaccine by June 1, DHA director says

The 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron has administered 1,138 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to service members at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania as of March 16, 2021. Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Janssen vaccines have been authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.



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WASHINGTON — By June 1, 80% of all U.S. military medical beneficiaries overseas who want a coronavirus vaccine will have received the shots, Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, the director of the Defense Health Agency, said Wednesday.

That rate was deemed achievable after the Pentagon announced Friday that the Defense Department would reallocate additional doses of the Moderna vaccine to overseas bases “for the next several weeks,” after the DHA halted distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in accordance with recommendations from Federal Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

“We’re sensitive to the fact that military hospitals and clinics represent the only source of FDA-approved vaccine among our population outside the United States,” Place told reporters at the Pentagon.

The FDA and CDC recommended the pause following concerns that the J&J vaccine, which the Defense Department intended to prioritize for use in its overseas populations, might be linked to a rare but severe form of blood clotting.

“Each service will now direct a total of approximately 30,000 additional doses of Moderna throughout the month of May,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday. “That's around roughly 10,000 per week, beginning May 10, to overseas locations in European Command, Indo-Pacific Command and Central Command.”

Still, Dr. Terry Adirim, the acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said Wednesday that the pause had “just a small impact” on the department’s vaccination rate “because of the small number of J&J vaccine allocated to DOD.”

The news comes after the Pentagon on Monday deemed all overseas military medical beneficiaries eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, canceling the prior phased approach to eligibility.

“We have great empathy to our service members and families deployed overseas because they do not have the same options as here in the United States to receive vaccines in our local communities,” Adirim said. “So, we’re committed and working diligently to ensure that they can get the vaccine if they choose it.”

As of Tuesday, the Defense Department had administered about 2.6 million coronavirus vaccines to service members and other eligible beneficiaries, according to its website.

Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos