By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
The United States military is our frontline defense and has a critical role in protecting the United States from threats around the world. Military readiness is critical to the success of the different service branches, and one of the most important concepts associated with military readiness is the health of our servicemembers.
Like everyone else in the world, the military is not immune from the coronavirus pandemic. Similar to the general public, the spread of the coronavirus is a particular problem for servicemembers, due to the contagious nature of the disease that can be spread through asymptomatic carriers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 40% of coronavirus infections are asymptomatic. Therefore, someone within a platoon may be unwittingly transmitting the disease to others.
The Military Has Taken Proactive Steps to Slow the Spread of the Coronavirus
The military has taken proactive steps to mitigate the risk of servicemembers contracting the coronavirus. For example, the military has permitted telework when duties allow, utilized daily health screenings, and restricted personnel movement and travel, which is now resuming in phases as local conditions permit. In addition, servicemembers are required to wear face masks when they are not socially distant from others, and the military has developed a tiered coronavirus testing protocol of military personnel.
Undoubtedly, these preventative measures have helped to slow the spread of the coronavirus among military personnel. Unfortunately, the nature of the coronavirus has made it impossible to completely stop its spread. According to a published report by the Department of Defense (DoD), there have been 111,581 coronavirus cases involving military personnel that involved 959 hospitalizations and 15 deaths.
The Department of Defense Vaccine Implementation Plan
The Department of Defense has announced that it is working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC on the distribution of coronavirus vaccines and that the DoD has a deliberate and phased plan to distribute and administer their allocations of the COVID-19 vaccine. The DoD has stated that they intend to prioritize which personnel will receive the vaccine based on CDC guidance, which includes those servicemembers who provide medical care, maintain essential national security and installation functions, deploying forces, and those who are at the highest risk for developing a severe illness from the coronavirus.
According to DoD, the first phase will include distribution and administration of the vaccine at select locations, and the criteria includes locations with a population of at least 1,000 priority military personnel and sufficient medical personnel to administer the vaccines. The initial vaccination sites in the continental United States include:
- Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood, TX
- Wilford Hall at Joint Base San Antonio, TX
- Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis McChord, WA
- Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, NC
- Navy Branch Health Clinic at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, FL
- Base Alameda Health Services at U.S. Coast Guard Base, Alameda, CA
- Naval Medical Center at San Diego, CA
- Naval Hospital Pensacola at Pensacola, FL
- Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, MD
- Portsmouth Naval Medical Center at Portsmouth, VA
- Indiana National Guard at Franklin, IN
- New York National Guard Medical Command at Watervliet, NY
Outside of the United States, first responders and certain medical personnel received their first dose of the vaccine on January 4, 2021 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Ramstein is one of 28 military treatment facilities that will receive initial shipments of the vaccine in Europe.
Protecting Servicemembers from the Coronavirus Is Vital to National Security
Protecting our military servicemembers who are on the frontlines of the pandemic and on the frontlines of national security is critically important. According to the Department of Defense, the vaccination is not currently mandatory, but it is highly encouraged to be taken by servicemembers who are eligible for it.
Taking the vaccine is an important step in mitigating the pandemic. Eligible military servicemembers who take the vaccine are protecting not only themselves, but their families, fellow servicemembers and the public.