WASHINGTON — The Pentagon outlined Wednesday its initial steps of the agency's plan to distribute and administer Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine to the more than 2 million active duty, reserve and civilian defense employees — a colossal logistical feat that will first focus on immunizing priority populations in 16 locations.
As early as next week, the Department of Defense is slated to start distributing its first 44,000 doses of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine.
In the first of a three-phase approach, the Pentagon will offer the vaccine at 13 military installations within the U.S. and three abroad to health-care providers, emergency services and public safety personnel as well as select service members and their dependents.
The vaccine requires a two-dose regimen to ensure the highest level of protection from Covid-19 with a second dose administered about three weeks later. Pfizer's vaccine requires ultra-cold storage that can hold the doses at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
"We chose locations with extra cold storage capability, sizable local priority populations and with medical staffs large enough to administer. We chose locations for military services, including active and reserve components," explained Army Lt. Gen. Dr. Ronald Place, the Pentagon's health agency director.
"As part of this initial phase of health-care workers, emergency responders, etc., we do have a very small set of very visible senior leaders that will volunteer to take the vaccine as one way to help message the safety and efficacy and to encourage all eligible personnel to take the vaccine," Place said.
Defense officials added that the vaccine, at this time, is not mandatory but is strongly encouraged.
"When the vaccine is first issued under the emergency authorization, it is typically on a voluntary basis," Place said, adding that his advice was to take the vaccine and in the interim practice CDC public health mitigation efforts.
Defense officials downplayed concerns that the coronavirus poses a significant risk to U.S. service members who are not part of the initial round of vaccinations.
"We've been fortunate, a large number of our forces are in the age criteria and health status where we've fared better than others," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said when asked if there were concerns about only a small population of U.S. military forces receiving the vaccine.