LOS ANGELES – Military medical and logistical personnel will be manning four mass COVID-19 vaccination sites in Florida and one in Philadelphia by early March, a senior military official told reporters Wednesday, bringing the total planned or operational sites to 11.
Three sites in Texas and two in New York opened Wednesday, along with a Los Angeles-based team in its second week, the official said. That brings the number of troops currently helping to vaccinate civilians at Federal Emergency Management Agency clinics to about 700, U.S. Army North announced Wednesday.
“We’re in the business of protecting Americans, and saving lives, and they feel really good about what they’ve been doing,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said after touring the California State University, Los Angeles mass vaccination site Wednesday and talking with both active-duty and National Guard troops there.
With many states short on medical personnel to get all of their doses administered, active-duty troops are stepping in to help run sites and put shots in arms.
In Los Angeles, that includes medical personnel from Fort Carson, Colorado, as well as volunteers from Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, along with California National Guardsmen helping with intake and discharge.
“This is about saving lives. This virus has taken 500,000 lives. If we can add value, we’re going to do that,” Austin told representatives from FEMA, California first responders and Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti during an on-site briefing. “It’s not lost on me how difficult this is, and it’s got to be a whole-of-country effort.”
In response to a January request from FEMA, the Defense Department made plans to deploy up to 100 teams comprised of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, starting with 25 to be spread through some of the country’s biggest virus hotspots.
To man that initial run, the Pentagon tapped nearly 5,000 troops, roughly 800 of whom are making their way to Philadelphia, as well Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville, Florida, with a target date of March 3 to start administering vaccines, the military official said.
Each of those sites is set up to give up to 3,000 doses a day, as are teams in Dallas, as well as Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y.
The Houston site will have a capacity of up to 6,000 doses a day, as does the Los Angeles location, which after a week of operations has gotten to a daily output of 5,800 to 6,000, the military official said.
Additionally, active-duty troops are supporting four locally-run vaccination sites in New Jersey and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Just based on what I’ve heard from them,” Austin said of FEMA and other local agencies on the ground, “there’s no question in my mind that they would recommend a process like this in other places.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.