Coronavirus infections fall in US military communities in Europe as pace of vaccinations ramps up
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This story has been updated.
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The U.S. military in Europe has ramped up its COVID vaccination effort, pledging that anyone who wants the shot will be able to have a first dose by June, officials said Friday.
“We are moving very quickly to get shots in arms,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Erickson, the command surgeon for U.S. European Command.
Nearly 150,000 doses have been administered to the U.S. military community in Europe, and EUCOM expects to receive about 20,000 vaccine doses per week for the foreseeable future, she said.
Some locations, including Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Aviano Air Base in Italy, have started inoculating local nationals as vaccine supplies have become more readily available.
Ramstein became the first U.S. air base in Europe to start vaccinating local nationals Thursday when it inoculated some 300 Germans who work at the installation. The U.S. military provided all the doses of the vaccine and supplies for the inoculation effort at the base, and local health care providers from the Kaiserslautern area helped to administer the shots, officials said.
“Vaccinating our local national population alongside our U.S. population will help protect the entire community,” said Brig. Gen. Josh Olson, commander of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein.
COVID inoculations were administered Friday at Aviano to local nationals over the age of 60 who work at the base, Staff Sgt. Valerie Halbert, a spokeswoman for the 31st Fighter Wing, said. Halbert was unable to say how many Italians received the shot.
Only 22% of Italians and a quarter of Germans have been vaccinated so far, compared with more than 40% of the much larger U.S. population, according to statistics compiled by Oxford University's Our World in Data team.
The rollout to military communities in Europe has been slow compared with bases in the U.S. and the population at large.
But a recent boost in vaccine availability has helped relieve supply pressure and speed things up for military members in Europe.
The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was back in use at military clinics in Europe after a pause to allow investigators to look into reports linking it to rare but sometimes deadly blood clots.
Medical providers will be on hand at vaccination sites where the J&J shot is being administrered to discuss patients’ concerns, Erickson said.
The two-dose Moderna vaccine will also be available at most places where the J&J vaccine is being offered, but at different times, she said.
“The Defense Health Agency has directed that we need to separate the vaccines by place and time,” Erickson said. “During a given time frame, they’re only administering one vaccine. It may be one day they’re doing Moderna; the next day they’re doing Janssen.”
Individuals will know when they book their appointment for a first dose of the vaccine which shot they will be receiving, she said. Two-dose vaccines, such as Moderna and Pfizer, currently require the same shot to be administered a few weeks after the first dose.
EUCOM expects to receive more of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine next month. It is the only shot authorized for use in teens aged 16 and older, and Pfizer this month asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to extend the shot’s emergency use authorization to adolescents as young as 12.
The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots are authorized for use, starting at age 18.
As more and more people get vaccinated, the number of coronavirus cases in U.S. military communities has dropped, Erickson said.
“The more people we have vaccinated, the less virus that is circulating in the community,” she said.
“That decreases the risk of the virus mutating and having new variants,” Erickson said, encouraging “as many people as possible to get vaccinated to allow us to, hopefully, move out of the pandemic and get back to normal life.”
Stars and Stripes reporters Norman Llamas and Karin Zeitvogel contributed to this report.