Feb 16, 2021

Pentagon Officials Press Conference on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Transcript February 16

Pentagon Officials Press Conference on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Transcript February 16
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Pentagon officials held a press conference on February 16, 2021 to provide updates on COVID vaccine distribution. Read the transcript of the briefing with coronavirus updates here.

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Facilitator: (00:00)
If you’re not actually speaking. Got to have that happen, otherwise, all the feedback and all that. Without any further ado, we’ll get moving. First up is acting FEMA Administrator, Mr. Fenton.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (00:16)
Hey, thank you for joining us today, and I appreciate being here today with General VanHerck. Along with a number of our partners, not only including DOD but Health and Human Services and many other federal agencies, we are committed to ensuring everyone who wants a vaccination can get one. I’d also like to start by thanking Secretary Austin, as well as General VanHerck, again, for their continuous unwavering support as a part of a whole of government response to COVID-19. I would also like to thank our partners from CDC who have been instrumental in partnering with FEMA as we focus on the President’s strategy for combating COVID.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (01:09)
This is the most pressing ethical and moral imperative of our time. Make no mistake about it, when we get through this, and we will get through this together, it will be because of the strength of the partnerships and the resiliency we build in our communities.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (01:23)
This week, we celebrated the opening of the community vaccination centers in Oakland and Los Angeles, and DOD has played a critical role here at the LA site. In fact, all the vaccinators are from the Department of Defense. We couldn’t do this support without the partnerships like this. In addition to these two sites, the White House has announced the opening of five additional federal pilot sites, and more to come, located in Texas and in New York; in Texas, Arlington, Dallas, and Houston; in New York, in Queens and Brooklyn.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (01:58)
These pilot sites are designed to augment the states’ ongoing vaccination efforts. Together, we will work with them to ensure that we increase the operational throughput of those that need vaccines. We’re working to connect all the sites, from sites that the states are working, to sites set up through the pharmacies, to sites we’re here now setting up to support the social-vulnerable populations.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (02:28)
In alignment with the president’s strategy to combat COVID, FEMA’s plans include concrete actions to assist, augment, and expedite equitable vaccination in the United States. One of the ways we’re doing this is providing financial assistance. We’ve already provided $3.2 billion in the first three weeks of the Biden administration to 40 states, and we’re also providing federal personnel, equipment, and supplies from a number of federal agencies to many sites across the country. As I said, now opening up specific sites that are primarily federally supported but state managed here in Oakland and Los Angeles.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (03:04)
It’s a pilot and we will continue to learn as we operate this site. It’s important to understand the way that we selected and focused on these sites. We’ve looked at large population areas, we use the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index as well as census data to look at communities that were most at [inaudible 00:03:30] is developing sites that can handle from several hundred to several thousand vaccinations a day. This site here is intended to do 3,000 today and we’ll ramp up to about 6,000 vaccines per day to include supporting mobile sites throughout the community to hit those hard-to-reach population areas.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (03:54)
There’s other types of sites that we will open up, including, as you might’ve heard this week, we’ve gone ahead and partnered with the pharmacies and provided a million doses out to the pharmacies next week, that will increase the two million doses, to help them. In California, that’s CVS and [inaudible 00:04:14]. The other thing is, in order to do this, we need to make sure that the supply is there.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (04:27)
[inaudible 00:04:27] next week, but we actually project out three weeks, so there’s a confidence interval there to support them. That’s increased each and every week since January 20th, from a little bit over eight million doses for the United States per week to 13.5 million doses now.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (04:47)
Just end with, the President has made it clear that equitable access is paramount. FEMA established a civil rights advisory group to ensure equity in the allocation of scarce resources. Our [Inaudible 00:05:01] also has the disability integration specialist working with official [inaudible 00:05:12] in each state and working to support these needs. Let me just close with a couple things and let me reiterate FEMA’s committed to ensuring everyone who wants a vaccine to get one, that two, everyone has a role to play in vaccinations, support your family, friends, and neighbors and the need to help them getting appointments or getting their vaccination. And lastly, we need to still continue to take safety precautions. Wear a mask, practice social distancing, and get vaccinated. We’re all part of the solution to this pandemic, thank you.

Facilitator: (05:48)
And for all of you on the lines as well, I’d like to repeat, please, if you’re not speaking, please have your device on mute. We’re getting a little bit of feedback, making it hard to share this information. Thank you. Without any further, Northcom Commander General Glen VanHerck.

Speaker 3: (06:08)
Thank you.

General Glen VanHerck: (06:10)
Hey, thanks Bob. I really appreciate the [inaudible 00:06:14] here to spend [inaudible 00:06:16] and as we talk to the Pentagon Press Corps, I think it’s important they understand the roles and responsibilities. To the Pentagon Press Corps, thanks for your time. I look forward to talking to you about COVID today, but more importantly, further in the future about other Northcom equities and NORAD moving forward. Acting Administrator Fenton and I completed a walk-through this site and then a conference with the governor and the local leaders here in the state. I can tell you that the site is impressive, it’s ramping up, and that it is, as planned, right on time for today, despite what you’ve heard. All along, we worked with FEMA and the department and the target goal for this site was 16 February and that was delivered upon. The site is ramping up quickly, and as you heard the FEMA administrator say, it’ll get towards 6,000 vaccinations per day.

General Glen VanHerck: (07:08)
As a commander of Northcom and NORAD, I have a couple of missions. First is defending North America, in my NORAD hat. And in my Northcom hat, defending the United States of America. We also provide defense support of civil authorities. All of those are no-fail missions. What I would tell you is, the threat to our homeland is absolutely COVID, and that’s what we’re attacking here today. It’s important to realize that it is a threat and we have to take an operational perspective. That is a no-fail mission. In addition to the fact that defense support of civil authorities is no-fail as well and we take great pride in that. I’ll tell you, the Secretary of Defense has been clear, Secretary Austin, it’s a top priority incidents for the administration. He said that DOD can bring capability capacity, and that’s exactly what we’re doing and we’re pretty good at it, and we look forward to bringing more.

General Glen VanHerck: (07:56)
That’s what you have ongoing here in California today. The first of its kind, a state-led federally-supported with DOD Title 10 active duty forces. I can’t overemphasize the incredible partnership with FEMA that made this happen and working with the state and the local authorities here, as well as the California National Guard. As you’re all aware, FEMA’s requests for forces from DOD included 100 teams: 50 type-one teams, 222 personnel, and 55 type-two teams of 139 personnel.

General Glen VanHerck: (08:29)
I want to make it clear how we’re sourcing those teams as we go forward. I think there’s a little bit of confusion. My first request for forces as the Northcom Commander was the first five teams. That was for all type-one teams, and it included 1,125 personnel total. I have asked the Secretary, and through the joint staff, for the additional 95 teams as well. What’s important is this the sourcing for that as being worked in tranches. And so what I have been allocated as a commander of Northcom is the first two tranches, which is the first five type one/two teams, and then 10 type-one teams in the second tranche, along with 10 type-two teams in the second tranche. That was about 3,700 personnel that are allocated to prepare to deploy. They haven’t been given a tasking to deploy at this time.

General Glen VanHerck: (09:20)
This is clearly a whole of government effort, and we’ve been assisting for over a year for this whole government effort to get after this threat of COVID. I’d just like to quickly tell you that we provided over 4,200 DOD personnel in support of FEMA mission assignments in 14 states, 44 separate locations, 63 hospitals, doing everything from our original sponsor to embedding in local hospitals, and as you note today, standing up this COVID vaccination center.

General Glen VanHerck: (09:51)
Right now, what we have is we’re completing our mission here in California for folks embedded in the hospitals. We still maintain our folks in Arizona. We have folks in Texas, and we have folks in the Navajo nation. I’m encouraged by the downward trends I see, and hopefully we’ll continue moving forward as the vaccine moves forward and not have to have more folks in the hospitals, but we’re prepared to do so if we can. You heard Mr. Fenton talk about the way forward with regards to further sites, and so I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you this site here on 16 February, type-one, provided by the U.S. Army, 222 personnel. We’ll provide three sites. We’ll have the air force in a type-one team in Houston. We’ll have the army in a type two-team in the Dallas area, along with the United States Marine Corps. 24 February, we should be up and running administering vaccines. In the New York area, also on 24 February, in Queens and Brooklyn. In Queens, we’ll have a Navy type-two team and we’ll have an Air Force type-two team in Brooklyn.

General Glen VanHerck: (10:55)
I want to be clear with regards to the New Jersey support, which is out in the public as well. That is separate from a FEMA request for 100 teams. That support is being provided by troops that the Secretary of Defense has already allocated to me to support hospitals. Out of those forces, I’m carving out teams that’ll support not only the New Jersey area, but the U.S. Virgin islands in the not too distant future. New Jersey, actually, site one of the first team was effective on 14 February and administrating shots. We’re working with FEMA on the site two and site three, and the potential exists for a fourth site in New Jersey. Two sites currently being worked with FEMA in the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas and St. Croix, and we think they’ll be about the 1st or 2nd of March, but don’t hold me to that. Each of those teams in New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands are 25 person teams, strictly medical, no support. They role in and provide vaccinations.

General Glen VanHerck: (11:57)
And I’ll pause there and we’ll take your questions.

Facilitator: (12:00)
Okay. So, we will stop and take a couple of questions. When asking a question, please let us know which of the principals you’re addressing the question to. First up, we’ll go to the phones for AP. [Leta Belldoor 00:12:12], please.

Speaker 3: (12:14)
Hi, thanks so much. I just want to let you all know that I think towards the end, we could hear the General fairly clearly, but early on, particularly, we could not hear the FEMA Administrator very well at all. It was very muffled, and I think we missed large chunks of his conversation. Just FYI.

Speaker 3: (12:38)
I have a question for Mr. Fenton: do you still expect that you would use and need the full 100 military teams, and how quickly do you think you will be able to get those out to various parts of the country. And for the General, either you or Mr. Fenton, if you could explain a little bit to us about the difference between a hundred teams, a hundred vaccination centers, that the Biden administration has said they want to set up, and how that number jives with the hundred military teams or the other teams that the General has talked about. Thank you.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (13:26)
Yeah. This is Bob Fenton, acting administrator of FEMA. Hopefully you can hear me better now?

Speaker 3: (13:32)
Yes, a little better, thank you.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (13:34)
Okay. So, how did we get to the hundred teams? What we did is we looked at, as vaccine comes more available and we get more points in March and April, another vaccine comes on, we need to make sure we have a throughput in the system to vaccinate people. And so we looked at a hundred teams as having the capability to vaccinate over 400,000 people per day. For example, right now in the United States, we’re up to vaccinating 1.6-7 million people today, 1.6-7 million people a day. So as vaccine increases and supply increases in that month, we need to have other abilities to vaccinate people. How do we do that? One, we’re providing funding. The $3.2 billion I talked about to the state and local governments to bring on their capability and resources. Two, the President’s authorized the National Guard 100% to bring out more resources from the National Guard. Three, we’re augmenting states and local governments with gaps of personnel from the federal side, let it be vaccinators, equipment, supplies, locations, to assist them in vaccinating.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (14:46)
But we always knew along the way, we would have to provide predominantly federally supported sites, which today is a pilot of these federally sites. These will continue to grow as supply comes on board. And addition to what we’re doing through the States and the different sites they’re using, whether it be medical facilities, those kinds of things, we’re directly vaccinating the skilled nursing facilities and healthcare clinical homes. And then we’re also sending vaccines to the pharmacies. We sent a million doses last week, 2 million doses next week. So we want to use all of the above to vaccinate Americans.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (15:25)
How much will we have to get to those on our teams? It depends on how much the pharmacies can do, how much states and local governments can handle, and what is the gap. We want to make sure we had the capability to go up to almost 500,000 vaccines a day. That’s what the hundred teams buys us. How much we’ll use will depend on vaccine supply and the capability of state and local government, the pharmacies, and other avenues.

General Glen VanHerck: (15:53)
To answer your second question. The hundred teams were designed for high capacity, 6,000 vaccines per day for a type-one team and for a type-two, a 3,000 per day. That’s all based on FEMA’s requests. The smaller sites in New Jersey did not have a requirement for that capacity, and so I was able to take those forces from forces I already had allocated to me to meet the demand signal by FEMA, not DOD, by FEMA for those sites.

Facilitator: (16:29)
Okay. Next up, we’ll take one from the floor here, Tara Cop.

Tara Cop: (16:34)
Thank you for doing this. For General VanHerck, Could you describe what the military personnel that will be assigned to the Dallas and Arlington sites, what they will actually be doing? And then, for either one of you, just a numbers clarification, the 3,700, are they all active duty, and is it 3,700 plus the 1,100 that have already been sent? Or is it 3,700 total? Thank you.

General Glen VanHerck: (17:05)
Yeah, let me answer that last question first. They’re all active duty. Only 222 have been sent, plus the 25 that I sent to New Jersey. They’re all on prepare to deploy orders. They’ve been allocated to me as a commander of Northcom to utilize for mission assignments approved by the secretary at the request of FEMA. So those forces are ready to go, and they’re all active duty. With regards to your first question, hopefully remind me of that? I forgot that one.

Tara Cop: (17:34)
If you could describe what, if you’re a civilian going to the Dallas or Arlington or Houston site, what exactly will they see military personnel doing? And then I’m still confused, I’m sorry, on the number. Is it 3,700 total or is it 3,700 plus 1,100 that are prepare to deploy?

General Glen VanHerck: (17:54)
The 222 person team has 80 persons assigned to it that will administer vaccines. In addition to that is all the support. Pharmacists, for example, you have to have pharmacy techs and pharmacists to prepare the vaccine. You have to have runners, et cetera, to distribute the vaccine. As folks pull into this site where you drive in, we have to have support personnel who screened those persons, ensure that they’ve had a proper screening ahead of the vaccine. In addition, we have supervisors that are nurses, such as RNs providing supervisory roles over medics that are providing the vaccines, and we also have medical providers who are supervising after the vaccine to ensure there’s no complications. So it gets pretty complicated. So a person who may have a post-vaccine event would be handled by a military active duty person providing that support. I hope that answers your question.

Tara Cop: (18:51)
I’m still confused.

Facilitator: (18:57)
Okay, next up, Lucas.

Lucas: (19:00)
General, is the National Guard mission in Washington, DC, competing with National Guard troops that you need to help administer the vaccine?

General Glen VanHerck: (19:09)
Hey, Lucas, those, those National Guard troops are not mine. That would be a better question for General Hopkins or FEMA here. I am not aware of any competition for those National Guard folks.

Lucas: (19:25)
Thank you.

Facilitator: (19:26)
Okay, we’ll go back to the phone lines. I’ve got Jared Suva from El Monitor.

Jared Suva: (19:30)
Hi, no question at this time, thanks.

Facilitator: (19:36)
Okay, thanks. Back to the floor, Tom.

Tom: (19:37)
Hi, thank you for doing this. Yesterday, some of the governors sent a letter to President Biden asking for a national approach to the whole vaccination effort. Is this part of what you’re hearing from the White House and how does those requests from those governors to the President yesterday affect like you are announcing today and looking forward to doing.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (20:02)
The President has a national plan, called his Strategy for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. What I briefed to you today is what that strategy is. It starts out with the President providing the resources to states and local governments, so 100% funding, for any support to vaccinate. It then provides federal resources to states and local governments, if they need federal capabilities, specific personnel, expertise, whether it be medical or other capabilities. It made the National Guard 100% reimbursable, so that they can lend the National Guard to the fullest extent possible. And then lastly, it increased throughput by providing primarily federally supported sites, which is this year. So we’re doing this now in California, two locations. We’re moving on to Texas and New York and the White House will announce other locations we’re working on. The key and underlining principle to the President’s plan is to ensure that we meet equity, in that there’s no inequity as far as who we vaccinate. We focus on the most socially vulnerable populations when we do that. So the President does have a strategy, we’re following that strategy, and it includes increasing supply each week, which he’s done, and providing a dedicated number that goes three weeks out, which has happened.

Facilitator: (21:34)
Okay, next up, Oran.

Oran: (21:40)
Is FEMA bringing its own supply of vaccines to these sites that require, or will use type-one and type-two teams, or is it using the state supply of vaccines? And if you’re aiming for 400,000 a day or the capability to do that, it seems by the math, you’re going to need many more type-one and type-two teams. Are there outstanding requests for sites like these from states that have not been fulfilled?

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (22:00)
Let me start with the first question. There are no outstanding requests in the system right now. This is part of a pilot to build this federal capability, and we’ve reached out to states. As far as dedicated supply, this is a supply that’s above and beyond what the state’s allocation is. So this week, the [Daycay 00:22:25] supply was 11 million doses of vaccine, split across the United States. Next week will be 13.5 million. So he increased next week. And no less than that, or more than that, in each of the proceeding weeks after that three weeks. So this a dedicated supply, above and beyond the state allocations, above and beyond what the pharmacies are receiving, and in a pilot phase right now. What we’re working through is the criteria for that pilot: large population areas, using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index to focus on populations at risk, to ensure equity in the vaccination of individuals.

Capt. Kennedy: (23:13)
Okay, this is Captain Kennedy, we’re going to have time for one last question, thanks.

Facilitator: (23:20)
Then we’ll stay on the floor here, Christina.

Christina: (23:23)
Great, thank you for doing this. Just to clarify, I think you said 500,000 vaccines a day, or did you say 400,000? And when will this capacity be up and running?

Capt. Kennedy: (23:40)
I’m sorry, I missed the first part of your question. If you could ask it again, please.

Christina: (23:44)
Yes. Did you say 400,000 or 500,000 vaccines a day? And when will this capacity be up and running?

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (23:55)
Each type-one site does 6,000 vaccinations per day. We have two sites here in California that are primarily federally supported, state managed. So, two sites. We’ll increase to three sites in Texas, two of those will be type-two, which have a throughput of 3,000 per day, and one of them will be type-one, which is a 6,000 throughput. In New York, it will be two type-twos, which are 3,000 per day, so that’s the throughput per day.

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.: (24:30)
When I talked about the 400,000 plus is if you took the fifth… When someone asked me, how did I get to 100 teams? I simply took 50 type-ones and 55 type-twos, which would be 300,000 per day, using that 6,000 per day and 150,000 per day, which would be 50 type-twos, and projected a need over months to give you the demand sale so that if supply ramped up, that we had enough throughput to vaccinate people. That doesn’t mean that it all comes on at one point, this is a phased operation that merits supply. And if there’s other available throughputs, such as all the state and local sites out there, the pharmacies, those will be taken in account. So I don’t think we will go passing 100 sites. In fact, I anticipate the number to be less than that. But I want to make sure I had the total amount ready and set so if there’s enough demand signal, that if we did need it that much in a short period of time, they were ready for the mission.

Christina: (25:37)
Got it, thank you.

Facilitator: (25:37)
All right, folks. That’s all the time we have for questions today. I want to thank you for joining us and for the work you do. Have a great day.