Leaders Urge Military Families to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

Leaders Urge Military Families to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

soldier getting vaccine
Photo by: U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Desmond Cassell

First lady Jill Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley were among a slate of high-profile leaders to appear in a virtual town hall urging military families to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccines are “extremely promising” in saving lives and reducing the spread of the virus, the leaders said, as DoD continues to encourage troops and their loved ones to get the shot. According to senior defense leaders, the percentage of service members declining to get the shot is about the same as the general population—around half, the Associated Press reported. 

“Today, we’re here to talk about the COVID-19 vaccine and protecting the 2.3 million men and women who wear the cloth of our nation and, equally important, the 2.7 million military family members,” Milley said during the Feb. 4 virtual town hall hosted by Blue Star Families.

Milley, who appeared with his wife, Hollyanne, who is a nurse, noted that getting the vaccine is “a personal decision,” but also that the vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective. Milley and other DoD leaders have received the vaccine publicly, in another effort to reassure the force. 

DoD has reported more than 143,000 cases of COVID-19 among military personnel as it races to distribute immunizations. 

Right now, the vaccine, which is being distributed through a phased approach, is available to individuals 75 and older, health care providers, first responders, residents in long-term care facilities and essential personnel such as teachers and child care providers.

“We're encouraging individuals to take the vaccine,” said Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency. 

Place said vaccinations will soon be open to beneficiaries who are 65 and older, including those “who live near [a military treatment facility] but don’t rely” on it for care.

“No one, whether they rely on an MTF for care or not, is compelled to come to an MTF to get a vaccine,” Place said. “If it's available in the community and easier for you to get it there, then get it at your first opportunity.”

Vaccine doses are also being shipped to military communities overseas and distributed through the same phase model as doses in the U.S., he said. “We have processes in place to receive and then administer that COVID vaccine just as we do for every other vaccine,” he said.

Units in the National Guard and reserve components also are receiving the vaccine, Place said, and their families will get vaccinated when they’re eligible. 

According to Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, DoD has distributed 769,000 vaccine doses to 306 sites around the world so far.

Richard Stone, acting undersecretary for health for the Veterans Health Administration, said more than 85% of its employees working on the COVID-19 front lines have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. 

“It’s an extraordinary testament to the fact that we believe it’s safe, and we’re lining up to get it ourselves,” Stone said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs currently has more than 215 sites delivering vaccines, with plans to expand, he said. It’ll also begin offering COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to “designated family caregivers of veterans” through the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, he said. 

“I'm really encouraged that so many of our veterans have expressed an interest in being vaccinated,” Stone said. 

While more than half of the VA’s enrolled veterans live in rural areas, the department has reached out in “unique ways,” such as flying the vaccine to a community in rural Montana to reach 500 veterans, he said.

“We're still getting through our high-risk individuals,” Stone said. “But we’re trying to get to everybody that wants the vaccine as quickly as possible.”

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. is facing between 100,000 and 200,000 new COVID-19 infections each day.

Despite the sobering news, Fauci said “the light at the end of the tunnel is the extraordinary success” of the vaccine development program. The speed of the vaccine development “is completely related to the extraordinary advances in scientific platform technology for vaccines,” he said, stressing that “no corners” were cut. 

“We did not sacrifice safety, nor did we sacrifice scientific integrity,” Fauci said. The available vaccines were determined to be safe and effective by “independent bodies”—comprised of vaccinologists, scientists, immunologists and other independent professionals—that serve the American public, he said. 

“When your turn comes up, please get vaccinated ... for your own safety, for that of your family and for the American community in general,” Fauci said.

Visit the Military Health System and VA for additional information on the COVID-19 vaccine.