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Military making progress on COVID-19 response, lawmakers want more

A top general tells Senators that it will be late summer before all troops can get the vaccine.

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense has administered more than one million doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

"Americans can have hope and optimism that we are on the offense and we will defeat this virus and we will win," said Army General Gus Perna, head of Operation Warp Speed, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Department of Defense's COVID-19 response efforts on Thursday.

But, in the very week that the United States passed the 500,000-mark in COVID-19 related deaths, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine was in no mood for celebrating.

He praised the military's  vaccine development efforts to date as "spectacular" and "remarkable." But, he said, the overall  federal  response to the pandemic has been "an atrocity" and  "one of the worst failures of domestic governance in the history of the United States."

He said: "The excess death experienced by the United States, compared to other comparable nations is shameful, absolutely shameful."

Pentagon leaders told the panel that because the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have only gotten emergency approval from the FDA, commanders cannot mandate that all troops must get vaccinated.

 About one-third of personnel have declined.

Lawmakers were also told because of the manufacturers' production schedules, it will be late summer before the vaccine is available to all of the country's 1.3 million active troops.

That news did not go over well with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal.

"I would think the vaccine would be available to all men and women in uniform," he said.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Salesses responded, "It will be sir."

Blumenthal fired back: "It will be, but why hasn't it been already?"

Salesses replied,  "Because the vaccine simply, it's coming in in different increments and we're vaccinating based on the priorities."

Still unsatisfied, Blumenthal shot back: "But, shouldn't all of the men and women in uniform be a priority?"

Salesses answered: "They are sir and they will get the vaccine."