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San Antonio’s Army North Coordinating Vaccine Deployment To California

Staff Sgt. Sarah McClanahan / Maryland National Guard Public Affairs Office
Alicea Francisco, assigned to Maryland National Guard, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Karen Sachs, a member of the public, Jan. 21, 2021 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, Timonium, Md.

The Pentagon will deploy more than 1,100 troops to five vaccination centers as part of the Biden administration’s campaign to inoculate more Americans against COVID-19. The first phase of the deployment will be overseen by U.S. Army North, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

As of now, troops will not be sent to San Antonio as part of this deployment plan.

The active-duty deployment comes as the country faces new coronavirus mutations that could help the pathogen spread more easily. The first medical team — made up of 222 Army personnel from Fort Carson, Colorado — is headed to Los Angeles. They’ll begin supporting FEMA's California State University Los Angeles vaccination center next week.

"Getting shots — vaccinations — in people's arms is the mission," said Army North Commander Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson. "And this team... has the ability to get thousands more people vaccinated every day."

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also approved four other teams on Feb. 4. Details regarding their deployment dates and locations will be announced at a later date. All in all, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked the Pentagon for 10,000 military personnel to support 100 vaccination sites.

The location of future deployments is largely contingent on vaccine availability in different parts of the country. Up until now, vaccine shortages have been more of a problem than lack of vaccinators. But that could change in the coming months.

“I can tell you that things are going to get better as we get from February into March, into April, because the number of vaccine doses that will be available will increase substantially,” said Anthony Fauci, the nation’s highest-ranking infectious disease doctor, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

But for now, FEMA is monitoring vaccine levels across states and trying to make judgments about where troops’ support would be most useful.

“We certainly don't want to have a case where there's a plethora of vaccines at the center but no vaccinators,” said Col. Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for Army North. “Similarly, we want to ensure that we don't have a lot of vaccinators and no vaccines. And that's why we're taking this phased, very deliberate approach in coordination with our state and federal partners.”

This isn’t the first time that the San Antonio-based Army North has had a hand in responding to COVID-19. Since March 2020, the command has overseen the military response to COVID-19 in support of FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In that time, 4,500 medical personnel have supported that response at over 70 hospitals in 14 U.S. states and the Navajo Nation.

“We've been at this for a long time,” said O’Donnell. “The expectation is that we will continue to be until this virus is defeated.”

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Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame