Millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine have shipped out around the country, including to more than 100 military installations, but the Defense Department has declined to share how many service members have received it.
At the same time, hundreds of thousands of doses have gone unused nationwide, according to reports from states like California, New York, Texas and more. While DoD announced in December that 44,000 inoculations would go out in its first round, the Pentagon has declined to specify how many have since been distributed and how many have been administered.
“More than 100 DoD locations have received vaccines or are scheduled to receive vaccines in the coming days, which means vaccines are available at nearly one-third of DoD military treatment facilities,” Army Maj. Cesar Santiago-Santini, a Pentagon spokesman, told Military Times on Thursday.
Santiago-Santini did not specify how many doses had gone out to those installations, nor how many people had received them, from service members to their dependents and department civilians.
He instead referred Military Times to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide count, which shows more than 25 million doses distributed but just under 9 million administered.
The department’s original plan started with 16 installations chosen for their health care staff populations and cold storage capacities, with orders to first vaccinate hospital and clinic staff, as well as emergency services and public safety personnel. Next would come “critical national capabilities,” such as on-call counterterror teams, nuclear missile units, bombers and submarine crews, following by units preparing to deploy overseas.
This was all part of a pilot program, Thomas McCaffery, the defense under secretary for health affairs, told reporters in December. Santiago-Santini declined to answer whether the distribution is still in a pilot phase.
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“The Department of Defense maintains a deliberate and phased approach to distribute and administer allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine, he said. “The current distribution and administration process remains consistent with the department’s established plan.”
Anecdotes have flooded in from around the country, particularly from hospitals and medical facilities, that fewer personnel than estimated have opted to take the still-voluntary vaccine, leaving thousands of doses hanging.
Some facilities won’t open new vials, which have multiple doses within each, unless they know they have enough people to take them all. And, with strict limits on how long a vial is still usable after it’s been opened, some clinics have gotten creative in using them up.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who heads up the federal government’s Operation War Speed vaccine initiative, has urged state and local health departments to issue guidance allowing vaccination to be flexible, as long as there is a concerted effort to get the highest-priority people vaccinated first.
Every unused dose is “one more life lost or one more hospital bed occupied,” he said during a Tuesday briefing.
Santiago-Santini declined to say whether DoD has completed any of its initial phases, or whether individual installations have been able to skip ahead to the next phases on their own.
“We are still on track and serving our initially prioritized groups,” he said.
Multiple installations have announced the arrival of their vaccines over social media, including many who were not on the original pilot list. That includes Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., an Army training post that announced it had begun vaccinating personnel on Monday.
About Meghann Myers
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.