Transcript

FEMA Acting Administrator Robert J. Fenton Jr. and Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, Commander, U.S. Northern Command, Brief the Media on DOD's Support to COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Feb. 16, 2021
FEMA Acting Administrator Robert J. Fenton Jr.; Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander, U.S. Northern Command

STAFF:  We're ready to go.

(UNKNOWN):  Yeah.

(UNKNOWN):  Is it snowing outside?

STAFF:  Jeez, I haven't seen a window in --

(Laughter.)

(UNKNOWN):  -- (inaudible) 3:00.

STAFF:  All right, I want to thank all of you for joining us today.  In just a moment, we'll turn it over to acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton and NORTHCOM Commander General Glen VanHerck.  They are here to talk with you -- or, well, they're here via phone to talk with you about the whole of nation COVID response and specifically support at community vaccination centers.

To all of the media that we've got on the phone lines, going to remind you the same reminder we give -- please mute your devices if you're not actually speaking.  Got to have that happen, otherwise this -- this -- you know, all of the -- all of the feedback and all of that.

So without any further ado, we'll get moving.  First up is acting FEMA Administrator Mr. Fenton.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR ROBERT J. FENTON JR.:  Hey, thank you for joining us today and appreciate being here today with General VanHerck.  Along with a number of our partners, including -- not only including DOD but Health and Human Services and many other federal agencies, we are committed to ensuring every one that 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 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.

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.

This week, we celebrated the opening of the community vaccination centers in Oakland and Los Angeles and DOD is playing a critical role here at the L.A. site -- in fact, all of the vaccinators are from the Department of Defense -- and 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 (inaudible) sites and -- and more than -- and more to come -- two located in Texas and in New York -- in Texas, Arlington, Dallas and Houston, and New York in Queens and Brooklyn.

These pilot sites are designed to augment the safe, ongoing vaccination efforts.  Together, we will work with them to ensure that we increase the operational throughput of those that need vaccines and we're working to connect all of the sites, from sites that the states are working to sites set up at the pharmacies to sites we're here and now setting up, to support social, vulnerable populations.

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

The 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 looked at large population areas, we used the CDC social vulnerability index, as well as census data to look at communities that were most (inaudible).

(Inaudible) is developing sites that can handle from several hundred to several thousand vaccinations a day.  This site here is intended to, like, do 3,000 today, 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.

There's (inaudible) sites that we will open up, including, as you might've heard last -- 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 to two million doses to help them.  In California, that's CVS.  The other thing is in order to do that, we need to make sure that the supply is there (inaudible) next week but we actually project out three weeks so there's a confidence there will -- there to support that and that's increased each and every week since January 20th from a little bit over 8 million doses for the United States per week to 13.5 million doses now.

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 (audio gap).  Also, housing and disability integration specialists (inaudible) in each state and working to support these needs.

Let me just close with a couple things and let me reiterate, FEMA is committed to ensuring everyone who wants a vaccine can get one.  Two, everyone has a role to play in vaccinations, support your family, friends, and neighbors, and the need to help them get an appointment or getting a vaccination.

And lastly, we need continue to take safety precautions, wear a mask, practice social distancing, and get vaccinated.  We're all a part of the solution for this pandemic safety.

STAFF:  And for all of you on the line as well, I'd like to repeat, please if you're not speaking please have your device on mute.  We're getting -- we're getting a little bit of feedback making it hard to share this information.  Thank you.  Without -- without -- without any further, NORTHCOM Commander General Glen VanHerck.

STAFF:  Thank you.

GENERAL GLEN D. VANHERCK:  Hey, thanks Bob, I -- I really appreciate the (inaudible) as we talk to the Pentagon press corps.  I think it's important they understand the roles and responsibilities.  And 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 equities moving forward.

After administrator Fenton and I completed a walk-through of the site, and then a conference with the governor and local leaders here today, I can tell you that the site is impressive, it is ramping up, and it is as planned right on time for today, despite what you've heard.  All along we worked with FEMA and the -- the department and the target go for this site was 16 February and that was delivered upon.  The site is ramping up quickly and it is like the FEMA administrator said, it will get toward 6,000 vaccinations per day.

As the commander of NORTHCOM and NORAD, I have a couple of missions.  First, is defending North America in my NORAD hat, 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.

I want to tell is the threat to our homeland is absolutely COVID and that's what we're attacking here today.  It's important to realize that -- that it is a threat and we have to take an operational perspective.  That is a no-fail admission.

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 is a top priority as it is for the administration.  He said that DOD can bring capability and capacity and that's exactly what we're doing and we're pretty good at it. And we look forward to bringing more.  That's what you had 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 our local authorities here as well as the -- the California National Guard.  As you're well aware, FEMA's request for our forces from DOD including 100 teams, 50 type 1 teams, 222 personnel, and 50 type 2 teams of 139 personnel.

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.  So, my first request for forces as the NORTHCOM commander was the first five teams.  That was for all type 1 teams and it included 1,110 personnel total.  I have asked the Secretary and through the joint staff for the additional 95 teams as well.

Which importantly is this -- the sourcing for that is been -- has been tranches and so what I have been allocated as the commander of NORTHCOM is the first two tranches which is the first five type 1 team -- teams and then 10 type 1 teams in the second tranche along with 10 type 2 teams in the second tranche and 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.

This is clearly a whole 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've 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 response to embedding in local hospitals and as you know today, standing at this COVID vaccination center. 

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 -- 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 1 provided by the -- the U.S. Army, 222 personnel.

We'll provide three sites, we'll have the Air Force in a type 1 team in Houston, we'll have a -- the Army in a type 2 team in -- 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 2 team and we'll have an Air Force type 2 team in Brooklyn.

I want to be clear with regards to the New Jersey support which is out in the public as well.  That is separate from the FEMA request for 100 teams, that support is being provided -- 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 will support not only the New Jersey area but the U.S. Virgin Islands in the -- in the not too distant future.  New Jersey actually, site one, the first team was effective on 14 February and administering 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.  We think they'll be about the first or second 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 there, (inaudible) and provide vaccinations and I'll pause there and we'll take your questions.

STAFF:  Okay.  So, yes, 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, Lolita Baldor, please.

Q:  Thanks so much.  I just want to let you all know that I think toward the end we could hear the General stated clearly that early on particularly we could not hear the FEMA Administrator very well at all.  It -- it was very muffled and I think we missed large chunks of his conversation, just FYI.

I have questions 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'll be able to get those out to various parts of the country?  And for the General, I don't know if either -- either you or Mr. Fenton, if you could explain a little bit to us about the difference between the 100 teams -- 100 vaccination centers that the Biden administration has said they want to set up and how that number jives with the 100 military teams or the other teams that the General has talked about?  Thank you.

MR. FENTON:  Yeah, this is Bob Fenton, acting Administrator of FEMA.  Hopefully you can hear me better now.

Q:  Yes, a little better, thank you.

MR. FENTON:  Okay.  So how did we get to the 100 teams?  What we did is we looked at -- as vaccine becomes more available and we get more points, in March and April another vaccine comes on, we need to make sure we have the throughput in the system to vaccinate people.

And so we looked at 100 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 1.67 million people today -- 1.67 million people a day.

So as vaccine increases or supply increases in the out months, we need to have other ability to vaccinate people.  How do we do that?  One, we're providing funding, the $3.2 billion that I talked about, to state and local governments to bring on their capability and resources.  Two, the President's authorized the National Guard 100 percent to bring on more resources from the National Guard.  Three, we're augmenting states and local governments with gaps of personnel from the federal side, whether they be vaccinators, equipment supplies, maybe locations to assist them in vaccinating.

But we always knew along the way we would have to provide predominantly federally supported sites, which today is a pilot of these federal sites.  These will continue to grow as supply comes onboard.  In 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 this -- the (inaudible) nursing facilities and healthcare clinical homes.

And then we're also sending vaccines to the pharmaceutical -- the pharmacies, and sent a million doses last week, two million doses next week.  And so we want to use all of the above to vaccinate Americans.  How much will we have to get to that 100 teams?  It depends on how much the pharmacies can do, how much states and local governments can handle and what is the gap?  We wanted to make sure we had the capabilities to go up to almost 500,000 vaccines a day.  That's what the 100 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.

GEN. VANHERCK:  Yeah, to answer your second question, the -- the teams, the 100 teams were designed for high capacity -- 6,000 vaccines per day for a type one team and -- and for type two, 3,000 per day.  That's all based on FEMA's request.

The -- 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.

STAFF:  Okay.  Next up we'll take -- we'll take one from the floor here.  Tara Copp?

Q:  Hi, 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.

GEN. VANHERCK:  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 the Commander to 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 -- your -- your first question, could you remind me of that?  I forgot that one.

Q:  If you could describe what, if -- you know, you're -- a civilian going to the Dallas or Arlington or Houston sites, 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 on prepared to deploy?

GEN. VANHERCK:  The 222 person team has 80 persons assigned to it that will administer vaccines.  In addition to that, as other support -- for pharmacists, for example, you have to have pharmacy techs in pharmacies 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 screen those persons, ensure that they've had a -- a -- a proper screening ahead of the vaccine, in addition to 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 gets pretty complicated to a person who may have the -- a -- a post-vaccine event that would be handled by a -- a -- a military active duty person providing that support.  I hope that answers your question.

STAFF:  (Inaudible).  Next up -- Lucas.

Q:  General, is the National Guard mission in Washington DC competing with National Guard troops that you need to help administer the vaccine?

GEN. VANHERCK:  Hey Lucas, those -- those National Guard troops are not mine.  That -- that would be a better question for General Hokanson or FEMA here.  I -- I am not aware of any competition for those National Guard folks.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Okay, we'll go back to the phone lines.  We've got Jared Zuba from Al-Monitor.

Q:  Hi, no question at this time.  Sorry.

STAFF:  Okay, thanks.  Back to the floor.  Tom?

Q:  Hi, thank you for doing this.  Yesterday, some of the governors sent a letter to President Biden asking for a sort of 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, your announcing today and -- and looking forward to doing?

MR. FENTON:  So the President has a national plan (inaudible) his -- his strategy for the COVID-19 response and pandemic record has been -- we'll brief you today, here's what that strategy is, so (inaudible) providing the resources to states and local governments.  So 100 percent funding for any support to vaccinate.  It then provides federal resources to states and local governments if they need certain capabilities, specific personnel, expertise whether it be medical, or other capability.  It made the National Guard 100 percent reimbursable, so that they could leverage the National Guard to the fullest extent possible. 

And then lastly, increase throughput by providing primarily federally supported sites which is (inaudible).  So we're doing this now in California, two locations, then we're moving on to Texas, New York, and the White House will announce other locations that we're working on. 

The key and underlying principle to the president's plan is that that we need equity and that's no inequity as far as who we vaccinate.  And 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 in each week, which we have done, and then providing a dedicated number, that goes through which has happened. 

STAFF:  Okay, next up, Oren? 

Q:  Is FEMA bringing its own supply of vaccines to these sites that require -- 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? 

MR. FENTON:  Yes, so let's start with the first question here.  And 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 is above and beyond what the state's allocation is.  So this week the dedicated total was 11 million.

This is a vaccine split across the United States – next week it'll be 13.5 million, so it’ll increase next week and no less than that, or more than in each of the proceeding weeks after that after three weeks. 

So this is a dedicated supply, above and beyond the state allocation, above and beyond what the pharmacies are achieving in a pilot phase right now.  What we’re working through is the criteria for that pilot.  Large population areas using the CDC Social Vulnerability Index to focus on populations at risk that -- to ensure equity in the vaccination of individuals. 

STAFF:  Okay.  Hey this is Captain Kunze, we're going to have time for one last question.  Thanks. 

STAFF:  Then we'll stay on the floor here.  Kristina? 

Q:  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? 

STAFF:  I'm sorry, I missed the first part of your question, if you could ask it again, please? 

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

MR. FENTON:  So for each type one site that's 6,000 vaccinations per day.  So we have two sites here in California that are primarily federally supported, state managed.  So these sites will 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.  What I said when I talked about 400,000 plus is if you took the 50 – when someone asked me, how did I get to 100 teams, I simply took 50 type ones and 50 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 DOD a demand signal. 

So as supply ramped up that we had enough throughput to vaccinate people.  That doesn't mean it all comes out at one point -- this is a phased operation (inaudible) supply and if there's other available throughputs such as all of the state and local sites out there -- the pharmacies, those will be taken into account. 

So I don't think we will go past the 100 sites.  In fact, I anticipate the number to be less than that, but I wanted to make sure I had that full amount ready and sent DOD a big enough demand signal that if we did need it that much in a short period of time, they were ready for the mission. 

Q:  Got it.  Thank you. 

STAFF:  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.