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U.S. Northern Command Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck and Acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton conduct a press briefing via phone on the national COVID response, and support at community vaccination centers, as seen at the Pentagon on Feb. 16, 2021.
U.S. Northern Command Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck and Acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton conduct a press briefing via phone on the national COVID response, and support at community vaccination centers, as seen at the Pentagon on Feb. 16, 2021. (Lisa Ferdinando/DOD)

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WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will send five teams of active-duty medical troops to locations in Texas and New York next week to work at new federal government-supported coronavirus vaccination sites, a top general announced Tuesday.

Some 778 troops will deploy to begin running five mega-vaccination locations by Feb. 24 in Houston, Dallas and Arlington in Texas and Brooklyn and Queens in New York, said Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, who leads U.S. Northern Command. The new deployments follow the first team of 222 soldiers from Fort Carson, Colo., that began administering shots Tuesday at a vaccination site in Los Angeles.

Last month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency requested some 10,000 troops to support up to 100 vaccination locations, which will be set up across the United States during the coming months as vaccine supplies increase, acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton said Tuesday. FEMA is choosing where the military troops are sent, and Fenton said additional vaccination locations would be announced by the White House in the coming weeks.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last week authorized up to 4,700 troops to support the FEMA efforts, placing them on prepare to deploy orders. Thus far only the initial Army team sent last week to L.A. and the five teams expected to deploy by next week have received assignments, VanHerck said.

Austin has authorized two types of teams for the deployments: teams of 222 troops with the capability of vaccinating about 6,000 people per day and teams of 139 troops that can provide about 3,000 shots per day, VanHerck said.

Most of the teams set to deploy next week are 139-person groups, he said. An Army team is going to Dallas, a Marine Corps team is going to Arlington, an Air Force team is going to Brooklyn and a Navy team is going to Queens.

A 222-person Air Force team will deploy to Houston, VanHerck said. He and other defense officials on Tuesday did not provide the units or the bases from which these teams will deploy.

They also did not say when the almost 4,000 additional troops on prepare to deploy orders could be sent to vaccination sites, or whether FEMA would need all 10,000 troops it initially requested.

Fenton said the government was taking a phased approach to setting up inoculation sites based on the available supply of vaccine. The aim, he said, is to eventually provide up to 500,000 vaccinations per day at the 100 locations where military personnel are providing injections, which would cover the entire 10,000 troop request.

But, Fenton added it remained unclear if that full request would be needed. The federal-supported vaccination sites are meant to augment inoculation capabilities by states, local governments and pharmacies, he said.

“We want to use all of the above to vaccinate Americans,” Fenton said. “So, it depends on how much the pharmacies can do and how much state and local governments can handle and what is the gap? That’s how we’ll know how [many troops] we’ll need to use, but 100 teams [prepared to deploy] buys us the ability to get to that 500,000 vaccines a day.”

VanHerck said controlling the coronavirus pandemic was the chief national security mission for the U.S. homeland. Austin has pledged the Pentagon under his leadership would do as much as it could to aide other government agencies in the fight against the virus, which has killed more than 487,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Pentagon has said 21 service members have died of coronavirus-caused complications

The United States is administering about 1.6 million vaccine doses per day, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 50,000 doses of vaccine had been administered in the United States by Saturday and more than 13 million people had received their second dose, the CDC said.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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