NEW YORK - As the COVID-19 pandemic rages into another year in the United States, the U.S. military is ramping up efforts to help get as many Americans vaccinated as possible by sending medical teams to vaccine hubs around the country.
Active-duty personnel began administering coronavirus vaccine shots at new hubs in New York City this week, have been staffing sites in New Jersey since earlier this month, and are deploying to centers in other states in the coming weeks.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with military commanders overseeing the COVID-19 response effort as the military expanded its vaccination efforts in partnership with FEMA and state health authorities.
"As you have probably seen, we are going to be sending teams of active-duty professionals to assist FEMA in administering vaccines at select locations around the country," Austin said in a video message released to troops. "In other words, we're pitching in to help our fellow citizens as quickly and safely as possible."
An Air Force medical unit staff member gives a COVID vaccine shot to a Brooklyn resident at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, N.Y., Feb. 24, 2021. (Governor's Press Office)
The Biden administration has said that delivering the vaccine to Americans is a top priority. Austin signed off on the deployment of 25 military vaccination teams, which come in two sizes, 222 members and 139 members. So far, 11 have either started or will begin next week.
A pair of 139-member medical teams began operations in New York City this week — one at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and the other at York College in Queens. Members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force were on hand on Wednesday as the sites opened to residents of surrounding neighborhoods. FEMA and the Cuomo administration are running those hubs, which can vaccinate up to 3,000 people a day.
The military has also sent three 25-member medical units to cities in New Jersey. Other teams are already in cities in California and Texas and are soon heading to Philadelphia and several cities in Florida.
Get breaking news alerts in the FOX 5 NY News app. Download for FREE!
Military service members sign in Queens residents coming to a vaccine hub at York College in Jamaica, N.Y., Feb. 24, 2021. (Governor's Press Office photo)
FEMA has asked for 100 such teams, which would put the Defense Department on pace to deploy as many as 19,000 troops if all are needed. The troop number is almost double what federal authorities initially thought would be needed — and is on top of the more than 20,000 National Guard troops who are already deployed under state control around the nation.
U.S. Army Spc. Cody Taylor, a medic from Fort Campbell, Ky., gives a COVID-19 vaccine shot to a patient at First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, N.J., Feb. 17, 2021. (U.S. Army photo)
"We're part of a larger team of federal and state agencies," Austin said. "And we are working hard — leaning in — to be productive members of that team."
The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the United States in the past year, killing more than 500,000 residents. Some experts say too few Americans have been inoculated for the vaccine to be making enough of a difference.
A Navy service member gives a COVID vaccine shot to a Queens resident at a mass-vaccination site at York College in Jamaica, N.Y., Feb. 24, 2021. (Governor's Press Office photo)