DOD Continues to Vaccinate Service Members, Nation

Hospitalman JLyn Bautista, assigned to the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24) administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Retail Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Wingle, April 23, 2021. Arlington is homeported in Norfolk, Virginia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John D. Bellino/Released)

The military health system serves 9.6 million beneficiaries at home and around the world, delivering health care and continuing to provide COVID-19 support to millions of Americans.

Dr. Terry Adirim, acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs; Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency; and surgeons general from the services today testified about 2022 defense health and medical readiness.

Adirim said that the most significant issue facing the Defense Department over the last year has been the COVID-19 pandemic. “The department has and will continue to act boldly and quickly to support federal government efforts to defeat this disease.”

When the pandemic started, the department and the services acted swiftly to put into place force health protection policies and procedures meant to reduce the incidence of COVID-19, she said, noting that those implementations and robust COVID-19 testing undoubtedly reduced the caseload.

The department is appreciative of the fiscal year 2020 supplemental appropriation of $2.2 billion as part of the CARES Act, which covered the significant costs incurred during DOD’s initial response. 

In FY21, however, costs attributed to the pandemic response continued to accumulate. She said the FY21 mid-year review of the defense health program identified likely shortfalls as part of the ongoing pandemic response, which the department is working to resolve.

In addition, the financial impact of DOD’s support to Federal Emergency Management Agency missions, which remain ongoing, are still being assessed, she said.

The department continues to pursue efforts focused on internal business process improvements and structural changes to find greater efficiencies, such as further integrating and standardizing the operation of hospitals and clinics, modernizing clinical and business processes and streamlining internal operations, Adirim said. 

Place noted that as of this morning, more than 60% of active-duty service members have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine; 46% are fully vaccinated, and the numbers climb daily.

Additionally, nearly 3.5 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to eligible beneficiaries, he said.

Place noted that one thing the services and DHA have learned during the pandemic is that telehealth works, and the department will most likely retain its use.