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Agency Ships Pfizer Vaccines Overseas for DOD Youth

May 21, 2021 | BY Beth Reece , Defense Logistics Agency

The Defense Logistics Agency has shipped first and second doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 12-to-17-year-olds in the U.S. European, Central and Indo-Pacific Commands areas of responsibility.

This is the agency's first handling of the minus 80 degrees Celsius vaccine, which is now included in the Federal Drug Administration's emergency use authorization for adolescents. Employees at the DLA distribution center in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, packed and shipped more than 46,800 doses on May 14 to 10 service-operated distribution centers in Europe, Japan, Korea and Bahrain. DLA Distribution's Navy Cmdr. Chuck Mielkie said the centers were chosen based on proximity to dependent youth populations and cold-storage handling capability.

A woman and two men look into a box.
Vaccine Inspection
Army Lt. Col. Todd Reeder, director of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency Distribution Operations Center, left; USAMMA DOC Deputy Director Liz Andrews, far right; and Defense Logistics Agency Distribution’s Robert Garrettson inspect a shipment of more than 46,000 Pfizer vaccines at DLA Distribution Susquehanna, Pa., May 14, 2021, before they’re packaged and shipped to military distribution centers in the U.S. European Command.
Photo By: Dawn Bonsell, DLA
VIRIN: 210514-D-KL823-8697

"Some already had the minus 80 degrees [Celsius] freezers and others had to procure them, but each site is best suited to further distribute to smaller [administrative] sites and treatment facilities," he said.

DLA has already shipped almost 600,000 doses of the minus 20-degrees Celsius Moderna and 2-to-8 degrees Celsius Johnson & Johnson vaccines for adults outside the continental U.S. or deployed on Navy ships.

"The intent is to provide a safe, authorized and viable vaccine to protect the adolescent population before the fall school year begins. We had a short timeline to get this done, faster than our normal process for flu vaccines or the other two COVID-19 vaccines," said Army Col. Anthony Bostick, head of DLA's operational planning team for COVID-19 vaccine operations. 

DLA and Defense Health Agency officials have worked since fall 2020 to plan and distribute Moderna and J&J vaccines to the services with DLA being responsible for shipping doses for Defense Department populations overseas and the Navy fleet. Both agencies have teamed with the services and combatant commands since spring to identify the number of dependent youth who would need the vaccine and assess cold-storage capabilities for Pfizer's version at DLA and military facilities.

Material handlers were also trained on special packing procedures for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Mielkie said, noting that the agency has distributed 2-to-8 degrees Celsius vaccines like J&J's version of the COVID-19 vaccine and annual flu vaccines for more than 20 years.

A forklift drives a pallet of packages onto the back of a truck.
Vaccine on the Move
The Defense Logistics Agency receives more than 46,000 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines at DLA Distribution Susquehanna in New Cumberland, Pa., May 14, 2021. The vaccines were packaged with vaccine accessory kits and shipped to U.S. European Command military installations.
Photo By: Dawn Bonsell, DLA
VIRIN: 210514-D-KL823-8694

An April 30 tabletop exercise involving more than 250 participants from DLA, DHA, the combatant commands, distribution facilities and administration sites helped finalize the DOD's overseas Pfizer distribution plan, Bostick added. The agency used its long-standing partnerships with organizations like U.S. Transportation Command to ensure contracted carriers like FedEx and UPS understood the special handling requirements, as well.

"DHA looked to DLA heavily to coordinate the process of getting all the vaccines overseas," he said. "We've also played a large role working with combatant commands to ensure they've been ready to receive and redistribute doses."

Mielkie said initial vaccine shipments to overseas DOD locations are almost complete, and operations will soon move from a push-to-pull-logistics model in which the services order from the available inventory.

"We're going to stop pushing vaccines forward because we're near saturation where the majority of folks [who are] willing to get the vaccines have already done so," he said. "The new approach will be for services to place weekly orders for folks who basically change their minds about receiving the vaccine or for new arrivals who haven't yet received it."