The navy begins deliveries of vaccines in Texas, New York

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The U.S. military began firing shots at coronavirus vaccination centers in Texas and New York on Wednesday, announcing that service members will occupy four centers in Florida and one in Philadelphia next week.

The expanded vaccination effort came when Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with military commanders overseeing the COVID-19 response effort. He visited the Los Angeles Vaccination Center, the first to be manned by the new active military teams currently under development.

The Biden administration has said delivering the vaccine to Americans is a top priority. The Pentagon is increasing the deployment of up to 100 vaccination teams across the country.

The increased efforts reflect the extent to which the coronavirus has devastated the United States, killing more than 500,000 Americans. While the average daily deaths and new infections have decreased, some experts say too few Americans have been vaccinated for the vaccine to do enough. The decline is instead due to the passing of the holidays, more people staying indoors during the winter, and better compliance with mask rules and social distancing.

California has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the nation at more than 49,000. Austin toured the state-run vaccination center that was established on the California State University campus in Los Angeles, which opened last week. The location on the east side of LA is manned by a 222-strong military team from Fort Carson, Colorado. He underscored the efforts of heads of state to make vaccinations more accessible to communities affected by the pandemic.

Despite the high death toll in the state, new infection and hospitalization rates continue to decline across the state. Health officials said Sunday the number of patients with COVID-19 in California hospitals fell below 7,000, a decrease of more than a third in two weeks. In total, the cases are approaching 3.45 million.

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The positivity rate for people tested has been going down for weeks, which means fewer people will end up in hospitals.

On his first trip outside Washington as chief of defense, Austin stopped in Colorado at the US Northern Command and met with his commander, Air Force General, Glen VanHerck, who also heads the North American Aerospace Defense Command. There, military officials told reporters traveling with Austin that service members in Los Angeles fire 6,000 shots a day and will build on that number at the Houston center, where the 222-strong team began operations on Wednesday.

Smaller teams of 139 members began their work in the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and in Dallas with two boroughs. They are expected to be delivering 3,000 shots a day soon.

Austin has so far approved the deployment of 25 military vaccination teams, which come in two sizes, 222 members and 139 members, and a total of approximately 4,700 service members. So far, 11 have either started or will start next week.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked for 100 such teams, which would enable the Department of Defense to deploy up to 19,000 soldiers if all are needed. The number of troops is almost twice as high as originally assumed.

The five military teams moving to the cities this week include 139 members going to Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville, Florida, and a 222-strong team going to Philadelphia.

The military has also sent three 25-person medical units to cities in New Jersey and one to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Military officials said the development of new sites will depend on how much vaccine becomes available and whether states can request the help and provide suitable sites.

In a video message to the armed forces, Austin urged members of the service to receive the vaccine. The shot is voluntary as the vaccines have not yet been finalized by the Food and Drug Administration. And while rates vary, military units around the world say 30 to 60 percent of their troops offered the vaccine are decreasing. Military leaders said last week that they believe the declination rate is around 30% overall, but they say they don’t have good data.

Austin said he took the vaccine himself and urged service members to check with their doctors and read the information available. He added, “You will see that these vaccines have undergone intensive safety surveillance. You will see that they are safe and effective. “

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