Soldiers Boost COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Soldiers Boost COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

soldier giving vaccine
Photo by: U.S. Army/Sgt. Alec Dionne

The Army, along with the rest of DoD, is stepping up to help with COVID-19 vaccination efforts as the rollout continues across the country.

Following a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has approved the deployment of 1,110 active-duty troops to support five FEMA vaccination sites.

A team of 222 soldiers from Fort Carson, Colorado—including vaccinators, registered nurses and other medical personnel from the 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division—will be among the first to deploy. They will head to a FEMA-run vaccination center in Los Angeles, the Army announced.

According to the White House, the first round of up to 100 FEMA-operated vaccination sites will be up and running by mid-February. Officials also have said that DoD may be asked to provide as many as 10,000 troops as more vaccination sites are established.

Meanwhile, National Guard troops continue to support COVID-19 operations, including vaccination efforts, in their local communities. 

Army Col. Peter Coldwell, state surgeon for the Texas Military Department, said Guard troops supported 64 mobile and two fixed sites for COVID-19 testing last year, traveling to more than 230 counties in the state. 

This year, they’re using a similar model to provide mobile vaccinations, he said. 

“It allows us ... to reach out to a rural community in Texas,” Coldwell said. “Texas is an extremely large state, and folks in the rural communities, especially on the fringes, don't have ready access to the large metropolitan centers.”

The mobile teams receive the vaccination sites, logistical help and doses from state agencies, while the National Guard provides vaccinators and support staff, he said.

So far, the mobile teams have “distributed everything” it has, Coldwell said. Where the teams will be next or how many people they’ll see in the near future will be up to the state, he said.  

“I can assure you that every single dose of vaccine that we get goes into an arm,” Coldwell said.

In West Virginia, Guard troops have set up five distribution hubs across the state as they work with local hospitals, long-term care facilities, health departments and pharmacies to distribute the vaccine, according to Lt. Col. Jim Adkins.

“We have one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States, so we truly understand ... the need to get this process right,” said Adkins, Task Force Medical commander and deputy commander of administration for the West Virginia National Guard Medical Detachment.

To date, Guard troops have distributed more than 227,000 primary doses and 144,000 booster shots across West Virginia, Adkins said.

Since the pandemic hit the U.S. last March, soldiers have deployed to set up field hospitals, assist with medical centers across the country and help their communities respond to COVID-19. 

Troops are continuing to provide medical support in 14 hospitals in 13 U.S. cities. U.S. Army North oversees the military’s operations for COVID-19 response efforts.

“I’ve been incredibly impressed with our flexibility and our initiative and ingenuity in responding to this,” Coldwell said. “Everybody’s done an amazing job, particularly with our ... senior leadership at military level and at state level.”