Lagging vaccine supplies at some US bases in Europe spotlight uneven distribution
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VICENZA, Italy — The U.S. military in Europe isn’t expected to get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine anytime soon and doesn’t yet have enough of the Moderna vaccine to inoculate lower priority groups, military health officials said this week.
The statements came after Navy officials in Japan said they soon would receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which recently received emergency U.S. approval.
The differences in vaccine availability between services and locations have left many people overseas uncertain about when they’ll get their turn, even as the Defense Department prepares to open up vaccinations through the military community next month.
“We have not been notified that we will receive the new Johnson and Johnson (Janssen) COVID Vaccine at Army Medical Treatment Facilities in Europe,” Regional Health Command Europe spokesman Gino Mattorano said in an emailed statement.
Navy and Air Force bases in Europe were also not on the receiving list, Mattorano said.
Since receiving their first doses of the Moderna vaccine in December, Army bases in Europe are mostly still inoculating health care workers, first responders, deploying troops, special operations personnel and top officials, all of whom are among the highest priority groups under the Defense Department’s tiered vaccination plan.
“We haven’t moved beyond (that), in most cases, because we haven’t received enough vaccines to be able to do that yet,” Mattorano said.
Some other military services in Europe are farther along. The Navy in Naples began offering vaccinations to all eligible adults in January, and its Sigonella base has since followed suit.
The Pentagon has declined to say how many doses are allocated to bases or discuss the number of vaccinated personnel in Europe.
Worldwide, DOD by Thursday had delivered 1,556,605 vaccine doses and administered 1,017,839 of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a little over 65%, a lower administration rate than any U.S. state. Defense Department officials did not respond to emails asking for an explanation.
Roughly a third of military personnel who have been eligible so far have declined to be immunized, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Place, head of the Defense Health Agency, said last month.
A “significant number” of DOD locations will begin vaccinations in April for the general population, including civilians, Place said at a virtual town hall meeting Thursday.
It remains unclear whether that will include much of Europe, where people 65 and over and those with serious health conditions are still waiting for their turns at many bases.
About 41% of American adults in that age group, which accounts for 8 in 10 deaths attributed to COVID-19, have received at least one shot.
“It will be nice to know when civilians and dependents can get their vaccinations,” a woman commented Thursday on U.S. Army Garrison Italy’s Facebook page, after the garrison posted a photo of a military dentist getting his second Moderna shot.
The garrison responded that it has “no local control” over when vaccine supplies arrive. A garrison spokesman said they plan to discuss the issue at a town hall meeting.
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the top U.S. health care facility in Europe, posted a similar message evidencing beneficiaries’ frustration.
“Showing up to the vaccination site without an appointment to try and get a vaccine only puts yourself and the staff at risk and slows down the vaccination process for everyone,” the hospital wrote on its Facebook page. “Please, we ask that you remain patient and wait for your appropriate tier group to receive your vaccine.”
A number of U.S. bases, including the Army’s Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Fort Bragg, N.C, and the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, N.C., have begun inoculating older and at-risk civilians.
Some troops and civilians in the U.S. may also be able to get the vaccine at pharmacies and other locations. But the European Union’s vaccine rollout has been mired in delays, limited in scope and largely unavailable to U.S. personnel.