Troops keep getting pushed down the priority list for a COVID-19 vaccine

Elizabeth Howe
August 21, 2020 - 12:08 pm
COVID-19 Plasma Donation

DoD

As the world learns more about COVID-19 -- and which demographics it most severely affects -- U.S. troops are getting pushed down the priority list for a vaccine. 

At the end of June, Department of Health and Human Services officials said military personnel would be among the first individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once it became available -- which is still projected to be sometime before the end of the year, according to Operation Warp Speed officials. 

Troops will be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine

But by the beginning of August, the military's spot at the top of the vaccine list started to look a little shaky. 

The "critical question" of who will receive the vaccine first is still being scientifically evaluated, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, director of Operation Warp Speed, said in an American Enterprise Institute podcast. 

Now, Johns Hopkins has come out with a "framework" suggesting how the vaccine might be distributed -- and aside from units actively deployed, the military is largely missing.

The Johns Hopkins study looked at the 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for high-severity influenza pandemics as a starting point. That guidance includes military personnel in the highest-priority tier for vaccination. 

But COVID-19 isn't influenza. And the military population is holding up more strongly against COVID-19 than the general population seems to be so far.

"We have not included active military, police, and homeland security personnel as candidate Tier 1 groups because of evidence that they are generally young and healthy and far less likely to have severe illness or be out of commission for a prolonged period or in great numbers at any one time," the Johns Hopkins framework reads. 

Johns Hopkins' framework includes health care and emergency workers as first-tier candidates along with those at greatest risk of severe illness and those who maintain core societal functions including teachers and food and transit workers. 

Military personnel to include National Guard troops who are "involved in operations" make an appearance in the guidance's second tier. 

The framework did include, however, that certain personnel such as elected leaders and mission-critical military and national security personnel would have their own vaccine supply to pull from "separate from this allocation approach."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, military personnel have shown lower rates of fatalities and hospitalizations and higher rates of recovery than the general population. But rates of infection within the military have been no less steep than among the general population. As of Wednesday, the Department of Defense reported 34,584 military personnel with COVID-19, 538 of which are hospitalized.

Five service members have also died from the coronavirus, the most recent of whom died Monday. Master Sgt. Brian Tolliver, 46, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July and fought for five weeks before his death.

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Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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