Troops to deploy to Texas to help with COVID-19 vaccinations in wake of winter storm

Despite the insistence of cities and states that they have enough personnel to administer COVID-19 vaccinations and their real challenge is with supply, as many as 3,700 active-duty troops have been standing by to help get shots into the arms of Americans at future Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sites, with scheduled deployments to Texas, New York and the Virgin Islands. 

But the severe winter storms that have blanketed Texas with snow and ice caused unexpected vaccine crises that might be eased with more help. In Houston, more than 8,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses nearly went to waste after a vaccination storage facility lost power. Officials distributed 5,000 doses, while a portion of the supply was rerouted to Rice University. “The vaccine supply we thought we were going to lose in a few hours we could actually re-refrigerate and administer later,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced at a news conference Monday.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler told CBS News the city had to delay opening up vaccination centers due to the cold temperatures. “We’ve delayed the vaccinations because we can’t open up the vaccination facilities. People can’t get around. It snowed. The roads are icy. They’re frozen. It’s just not safe for people to be out. So, we need this to thaw,” he said. “And my understanding is we might be a day or two away from that. And then we are going to just have to re-double our efforts to make sure the vaccine that we have gets in the peoples’ arms. But for right now, we’re on pause.”

Military personnel are ready to move, U.S. Northern Command head Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck told reporters on Tuesday, but “they haven’t been given a tasking to deploy at this time.”

Next week, the Air Force will send teams to Houston and Brooklyn. An Army and Marine Corps team will travel to Dallas, while members of the Navy head to the New York City borough of Queens. All sites are expected to be operational by February 24. 

Houston’s vaccination site plans to administer 6,000 shots a day, while others will administer 3,000 a day. The new community vaccination centers target underserved and marginalized communities hit hardest by COVID-19. The latest orders bring the number of troops in the Defense Department mission to 4,700, including active duty personnel supporting or preparing to support vaccination efforts.

But before FEMA and DOD’s vaccination roll-out hits Texas, residents will continue to suffer amid rolling blackouts caused by more ice and snow, leaving many in the dark. 

“FEMA maintains its mission readiness in supporting a variety of disasters, including recent snowstorms,” FEMA said in a statement Tuesday. “A major winter storm is spreading from the Southern Plains into the Northeast through Tuesday. … Significant travel disruptions are expected, and power outages are occurring as winter weather extends from south Texas into Maine.”

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