Troops in War Zones May Get Priority for a COVID-19 Vaccine

Kentucky Air National Guard Base deployment
Members of the 123rd Airlift Wing board a C-130 Hercules aircraft at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., June 24, 2020, prior to deploying to the Persian Gulf region. (Clayton Wear/U.S. Air National Guard)

Service members, especially those deployed to combat zones, will be considered to be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said Thursday.

"In general, military members are considered to have special priority" for new vaccines and therapies, he said, but stressed that decisions have yet to be made on who will go to the front of the line.

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Deciding which groups will be targeted first for a vaccine still in development is "not an easy question to ask or answer," he said.

"We want to prioritize those at highest risk," including the elderly, those in nursing homes and health care providers, Collins explained.

In an Aug. 6 American Enterprise Institute podcast, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, director of the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed project to develop a vaccine by January 2021, said that he is working with Collins to convene an "independent scientific summit" at the National Academy of Sciences to make recommendations on group priorities.

Collins said the summit will likely convene after Labor Day and make recommendations that would then have to be approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A senior administration official, who joined Collins on a conference call with reporters, ruled out a role for the military in the distribution and delivery of millions of doses of a vaccine once it has been proven to be effective.

Army Gen. Gus Perna, the widely respected head of Army Materiel Command, was brought on as chief operating officer at Operation Warp Speed for his expertise in logistics, but the Defense Department's vast capabilities for moving supplies will not be involved in vaccine distribution, the senior official said.

Instead, a public-private partnership will be formed to deal with distribution, the official explained. He said Perna's main role is in advising and assisting the drug companies working on a vaccine in their own production planning and manufacturing.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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