Austin Visits Northern Command, Los Angeles to get ground-level truth on COVID-19 fight

Army Spec. Kidanny Serrano administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a Los Angeles resident at the California State University Los Angeles community vaccination center, Feb. 18, 2021. Serrano is a combat medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. Team members deployed from Fort Carson, Colo., to support the Defense Department's pandemic response operations. (Army photograph by Capt. Daniel Parker)

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III got a ground-level truth on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic Feb. 24 as he visited U.S. Northern Command and meets with soldiers supporting the vaccination efforts in Los Angeles.

Northcom is coordinating the operation to get “shots in arms” and the Los Angeles effort is doing just that. Active duty teams are at California State University, Los Angeles to help vaccinate 6,000 people per day. The troops are there in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and work as part of the whole-of-government approach. 

Austin has called the COVID-19 pandemic the most pressing problem in the world today. He must ensure the health and readiness of the force while dedicating resources and capabilities to federal, state and local officials. Northcom officials told the secretary that they have not had to refuse a request for assistance from FEMA yet.

Army 1st Lt. Michelle Torres, with the Madigan Army Medical Center, thanks World War II veteran William Sanchez for his service after giving him a COVID-19 vaccination at the California State University Los Angeles vaccination site in Los Angeles, Feb. 17, 2021. (Army photograph by Capt. Daniel Parker)

The DOD now has more than 1,900 personnel involved in the vaccine support mission. There are three Type 1 teams of approximately 222 service members deployed. There are eight Type 2 teams of about 139 personnel and about five smaller teams deployed. There are about 2,000 more military personnel awaiting requests for support from FEMA.

The Type 1 team can inoculate 6,000 people per day. Type 2 teams can inoculate about half of that number and the other teams about 250 vaccinations per day. There are teams vaccinating people in California, New York, Texas, New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Teams with about 780 personnel will deploy to Florida and Pennsylvania, U.S. Northern Command officials said. A Type 1 team from the Marine Corps will move to Philadelphia — the city where the Corps formed in 1775. The team will set up in the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Florida will receive four Type 2 teams with Army teams deploying to Orlando and Miami; a Navy team to Jacksonville and an Air Force team to Tampa. 

California Air National Guardsmen assigned to Joint Task Force Mustang attend a morning briefing at the California State University campus in Los Angeles, Feb. 15, 2021. The task force has been activated to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services’ first whole-of-government, mega point of distribution site for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Air National Guard photograph by Senior Airman Neil Mabini)

All of this is on top of the assistance the military has provided to civilian agencies since the pandemic began a year ago. The U.S. military helped get Americans home from overseas locations early on and assisted in quarantining civilians from affected cruise ships. Two Navy hospital ships deployed to New York and California when COVID-19 cases threatened to run out of control. Army teams deployed to other affected communities.

Later on in the pandemic, teams from all services gave first responders a hand when needed most and went to hospitals where local health care workers were being overwhelmed. 

Military researchers worked to develop treatments for the symptoms of COVID-19 and also worked with civilian agencies and companies on developing vaccines.

Military expertise — especially logistical expertise — was called on once vaccines were granted emergency use authorizations by the Food and Drug Administration. Millions and millions of doses of the vaccines have been distributed to the states, the District of Columbia and territories.

Now military personnel are going the final mile — getting vaccines into arms. The Los Angeles effort is averaging between 5,800 and 6,000 vaccinations per day, said military officials speaking on background. Officials said the dips in vaccinations can be traced back to the interruptions in supply caused by the extreme weather in many parts of the country.

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