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Pentagon unsure if hundreds of thousands of civilian employees are vaccinated as deadline approaches

By Oren Liebermann, CNN

The Pentagon is in the dark about the vaccine status of hundreds of thousands of its civilian employees just weeks before the deadline to fully vaccinate its workforce against Covid-19.

The Pentagon has made significant progress vaccinating the military’s active-duty force but according to Defense Department data, the Pentagon has not tracked vaccinations or received self-reporting data for more than half of its civilian employees, even though the looming November 22 vaccination deadline for civilian federal government workers falls before the deadline for most active duty service members.

Well over 90% of service members have been fully or partially vaccinated, but without data on the civilian workforce, the Pentagon may face a major challenge ensuring a huge swath of its employees are vaccinated in time.

The department’s civilian population numbers more than 765,000 but DoD has approximately 400,000 civilian employees with an unknown vaccine status.

Press secretary John Kirby said the Pentagon is still working through how to ensure its civilian workforce is fully vaccinated, but he did not foresee it becoming a “huge issue” going forward.

“Our civilian workers here, they take their jobs very seriously, they take their obligations to their families and their coworkers very seriously and I think we have every expectation that they too will continue to seek and pursue getting vaccinated,” said Kirby at a press briefing Tuesday. “There are a range of administrative tools that leaders here at the department would have to make sure that our civilian workers are likewise getting the vaccine.”

The vast majority of the Defense Department’s civilian workforce is spread across the United States, with the largest concentration in and around Washington, DC. Only a small percentage of DoD civilians work overseas.

The current department numbers show nearly 319,000 DoD civilians are fully vaccinated, while another 46,477 are partially vaccinated. But these numbers only include individuals who received their vaccine through a DoD provider or self-reported receiving the vaccine.

“The numbers on the website are incomplete,” said Maj. Charlie Dietz, a Pentagon spokesman. “The Safer Federal Workforce Taskforce, which is implementing the President’s EO requiring federal employee and contractor vaccination, will have requirements on what data DoD must collect for its federal civilian workforce, so we should know more information about the implementation soon.”

The DoD civilian population has also had far more deaths from Covid-19 than the military population. In all, 334 civilians have died of Covid, according to Defense Department data, while 62 service members have died of the disease.

The November 22 deadline for being fully vaccinated is still six weeks away, but the deadlines for receiving the vaccines are rapidly approaching or, in the case of the Moderna vaccine, have already passed, since an individual has to receive the full schedule of doses and wait two weeks before being considered fully vaccinated.

In order to meet that deadline, the last possible date for receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine is October 18, while the latest possible date for first dose of Moderna was October 11. The Pfizer vaccine requires a three-week waiting period in between first and second dose. Moderna requires a four-week wait. The last possible date to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is November 8, two weeks before the November 22 deadline.

Only the Air Force has an earlier deadline, requiring its active duty force to be fully vaccinated by November 2. As of this month, the Air Force has fully or partially vaccinated 95.4% of active duty airmen.

The Navy, which has a November 28 deadline, leads the services with 98% of its active duty force either fully or partially vaccinated, while the Marine Corps, with the same deadline, has fully or partially vaccinated 90% of active duty marines.

The Army has partially or fully vaccinated 91.4% of active duty soldiers, and its deadline for vaccination is December 15.

In all, the military has a 96.7% vaccination rate among active duty, including fully and partially vaccinated, Kirby said at the briefing, which means approximately 44,700 active duty troops remain unvaccinated out of a total force of 1.35 million. That puts the military well ahead of the general population, which has a 78.4% vaccinate rate for those 18 and over.

According to an October 1 memo that mandated vaccines for DoD’s civilian workforce, employees “must be prepared to provide a copy of their Covid-19 vaccine record.”

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