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Top US general for Europe acknowledges vaccine distribution lag at overseas bases

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The top American general responsible for troops in Europe said there has not been an equal distribution of vaccines between bases inside of the United States and overseas so far during a congressional hearing on Thursday.

“Secretary (Lloyd) Austin was key to point out the percentage of those tier 1 military uniform members that have received the vaccine in CONUS should be equivalent to the same in Europe and the Pacific and the same for the dependents, that has not been the case, so we are working to fix that,” Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of US European Command, said.

The Department of Defense is using a tiered system to distribute vaccines, much like the tiered system employed by states across the United States. In tiers 1a through 1c, essential workers, those who are about to be deployed, elderly and those with high-risk health issues are prioritized. Tier 2 includes everyone else.

Military members and their families stationed at bases in Europe have expressed concern and frustration with the pace of the vaccine rollout at their bases.

US European Command is transitioning from receiving 3,500 vaccines a week to “being able to receive 18,000 vaccines a week,” Wolters said on Thursday.

Wolters said the pause on the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will impact the ability to ramp up vaccine distribution at bases in Europe, but the situation at bases in Europe will be “significantly different” by the end of May.

“Unfortunately, with the J&J cutoff, there’s probably going to be about a 20% reduction to those surges, and we’re still working on those specifics, but the site picture from within Europe for the military members and certainly for the dependents, will be significantly different by the end of May than it is today because we will actually triple our surge capacity,” Wolters said.

The Department of Defense paused distribution of Johnson & Johnson vaccines earlier this week at the recommendation of the Federal Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control.

Wolters said he and Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, have both expressed the “need to accelerate the flow of vaccines” in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific region to Austin.

“Combatant commanders, specifically myself and Phil Davidson from INDOPACOM, have both expressed to the Secretary the need to accelerate the flow of vaccines mostly for the dependents of our military members in Europe and for Phil Davidson in the Pacific, and up to this point we’ve probably been a little bit off balance,” Wolters said.

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