The Biden administration announced on Friday it will soon begin deploying government personnel to federally-run COVID-19 vaccine sites across the country.
While President Biden previously set the goal of launching such vaccination centers, Defense Department Secretary Lloyd Austin for the first time authorized 1,110 active duty troops to help stand up and operate the sites. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is coordinating the effort and will also send its own staff to run the centers.
FEMA said the initial effort will see “a small number of pilot community vaccination sites” that will be primarily staffed by federal personnel to support state and local governments. The first centers will be in Los Angeles and Oakland, and are expected to begin vaccinating people on Feb. 16. Biden has vowed to establish 100 federally run vaccination sites within one month.
“Piloting these centers allows FEMA and its federal partners to ensure the success of a small number of centers before preparing additional support as vaccine supplies ramp up in the weeks and months ahead,” the agency said in a statement.
FEMA said it would provide resources and operational support, in addition to staffing, to help run the centers. The agency is already supporting 175 state-and-local-run vaccine centers across the country and reimbursing 100% of associated state costs. FEMA has provided about $2 billion to states, territories and tribes for vaccination-related expenses, including supplies, transportation, personal protective equipment and communications.
Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, called the sites “such a critical part of our all-of-government response.”
John Kirby, spokesman for the Pentagon, said Defense will send 222 active duty troops to each of five pilot “mega-sites.” Those teams will be made up primarily of medical personnel, he said. FEMA will determine which teams deploy to which sites, with the first one going to California in the coming days. Separately, many states across the country have activated National Guard troops to support their vaccine sites.
Defense and four other federal agencies have received their own vaccine distributions to inoculate their own employees through an internal process. Other agencies are struggling to develop plans for vaccinating their workforces.