Top commander says more vaccines coming to Europe after lawmakers question Pentagon planning
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STUTTGART, Germany — The Defense Department is speeding up coronavirus vaccine deliveries to overseas bases, the top commander in Europe said this week as he faced questions about a slow rollout that lawmakers blamed on poor military planning.
U.S. European Command’s Gen. Tod Wolters said he and his counterpart in the Pacific, Adm. Phil Davidson, have been pressing the Defense Department to “accelerate the flow” of deliveries.
“Up to this point we’ve probably been a little bit off balance,” Wolters said during testimony Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee.
The Pentagon has come under criticism for how it has distributed the vaccine, with overseas personnel voicing frustration over long wait times compared to the faster pace at U.S. installations.
“The word we are getting is there has been insufficient planning for the storage and transportation of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines … I certainly hope this is addressed because it impacts people’s real lives,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, told Wolters.
Turner also said the Pentagon should have had a better plan given the many months between the start of the pandemic and the development of vaccines.
“We knew this was coming,” Turner said.
So far, 46% of Europe-based active-duty troops in DOD’s Tier 1 group have been vaccinated, Wolters said.
Tier 1 includes troops likely to deploy, critical workers, first responders and those with health conditions. Other service members, civilians and family members are still waiting for their first shots.
At military vaccination sites in the U.S., at least 40% of locations have opened up shots to all eligible beneficiaries who want them. Unlike in Europe, shots are also available at U.S. pharmacies and off-base vaccination centers.
Wolters said the situation should improve soon. The military in Europe will be able to administer 18,000 shots per week by mid-May, up from 3,500 per week, Wolters said.
It planned to have an additional “surge capacity” of 23,000 shots per week, but the decision to suspend use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could reduce that figure by 20%, Wolters said.
Military medical clinics are trying to implement a Defense Department plan to offer vaccines to all eligible beneficiaries beginning Monday, with at least an initial dose being administered by mid-May.
There are 244,000 people eligible for the vaccine in Europe, according to EUCOM. That includes uniformed personnel, civilian workers, family members and military retirees.
EUCOM anticipates that by July all of those willing to be vaccinated will have received shots.
Stars and Stripes reporter Jennifer H. Svan contributed to this report.