San Diego Navy Personnel Among the First in DoD to Get New COVID-19 Vaccine Shots

COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Naval Medical Center San Diego
The first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD), with distribution being conducted in phases, Dec. 14, 2020. (Vernishia R. Vaughn-Lucas/U.S. Navy)

The U.S. Navy will begin vaccinating personnel for COVID-19 starting Tuesday -- some of the first Defense Department employees to get the newly authorized vaccine for the coronavirus.

According to the Navy, military health care workers, first responders and personnel security forces at Naval Medical Center San Diego are expected to be among the first DoD personnel to get shots, starting Tuesday, while workers at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, as well as base first responders and "fire and gate people" will start getting theirs Wednesday.

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All participation will be voluntary, officials reiterated in a call with reporters Monday.

"While the vaccine is under the [emergency use authorization], receipt of the vaccine will be purely on a voluntary basis. Now, once the EUA is lifted and it is fully licensed by the FDA, at that point we will refer to DoD guidance," said Capt. Devin Morrison, acting NMCSD director.

Exactly how many doses the hospital at Balboa will receive and the number of people who will be offered the vaccine has not been made public. Navy officials cited operational security in refusing to disclose the numbers.

"In general, we aren't releasing those numbers for the same reasons that we're not releasing the numbers of COVID at any individual location. It's an operational security issue, as far as readiness of the force," Morrison said.

Military officials cited the same concerns in March, with Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordering installation commanders to stop releasing the number of coronavirus cases per base, citing operational concerns.

Officials said Monday, however, that the allocation to the Southern California Navy and Marine Corps health facilities was related to "population, not hotspots."

According to Rear Adm. Timothy Weber, commander of Naval Medical Forces Pacific, NMCSD was selected as a distribution site for its extensive number of medical personnel who can administer and track the two-dose vaccine, its role in the supply chain. The center also has at least 1,000 "priority personnel" who will be offered the vaccine.

"DoD will use these initial sites to validate the distribution and administrative processes and guide follow-on identification and scaling of DoD distribution," Weber said.

The entire Department of Defense is slated to receive 43,875 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first allocation.

Navy officials in San Diego said they would use their allotment to cover as many people as possible with a first vaccine. They expect a second allocation, they said, to provide enough immunizations for the required second dose.

To date, the Navy has recorded 19,198 total cases of COVID-19, while the Marine Corps has had 11,195 cases. Fourteen service members have died, including two active-duty members -- a Navy chief assigned to the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and a 43-year-old soldier who died last week in Germany while en route to a hospital.

Navy officials said Monday that priority personnel can refuse the vaccine and will be allowed to continue working, wearing personal protective equipment and continuing other protocols in place -- social distancing, hand-washing, etc. -- for minimizing exposure or transmitting the illness.

"They will remain in their patient care roles and they will comply with all normal PPE guidelines, protections we have in place," Morrison said.

The Army and Air Force are expected to receive their allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer this week, but the services have not released information on when they plan to begin administering them.

As with the Navy, the Army and Air Force plan to vaccinate health workers and first responders in the first round.

In addition to NMCSD, the following locations will serve as initial distribution sites for DoD:

  • Madigan Army Medical Center, Washington
  • U.S. Coast Guard Base Alameda, California
  • Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii;
  • Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio
  • Darnall Army Medical Center, Texas
  • Naval Hospital Pensacola, including Keesler Air Force Base, Florida
  • Naval Branch Health Clinic Jacksonville, Florida
  • Womack Army Medical Center, North Carolina
  • Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, including U.S. Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, Virginia
  • Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Maryland
  • Indiana National Guard
  • New York National Guard
  • Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany
  • Kadena Air Base, Japan
  • Camp Humphreys, Korea

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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