The Foreign Service Journal, April 2021

AFSA NEWS 64 APRIL 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL State Med Director Briefs AFSA Members on Slow Vaccine Rollout In a Feb. 2 Zoom call arranged by AFSA, State Department Chief Medical Officer Larry Padget addressed concerns about the slow vaccine rollout to employees and their fami- lies. More than 900 people participated in the call. Last July, Dr. Padget explained, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials told the department that it would receive 270,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses as part of Operation Warp Speed, and State officials made a plan to rapidly deploy the vaccine overseas. “We felt very confident that we’d be able get all the vaccines out around the world within two weeks,” he said, adding that the department wants to pro- vide vaccines to everyone from Foreign Service direct hires and family members to contractors and locally employed staff. But two days before the vaccines were supposed to arrive, in early December, officials told State’s Bureau of Medical Services that they would receive only 16,500— or five percent—of the vac- cines in the first batch. “And we had to make some tough decisions,” Dr. Padget said. State MED makes data- driven recommendations on vaccine allocation to the under secretary for manage- ment, who makes the final decision on distribution, he said. State allocated doses in the first tranche to embassy personnel in Kabul, Baghdad and Mogadishu, since those cities had large COVID-19 outbreaks, he said. Also receiving vaccines from that first tranche were frontline workers such as State MED employees and department cleaning staff, and Diplomatic Security staff who were working on the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden. As of early February, the department had received less than 25 percent of the total allotment. So far, MED has received small tranches of vaccines on a monthly basis, Dr. Padget said. The second tranche of vaccines, in January, was a little bigger at 33,000 doses, he said. The department sent vaccines to 28 posts in western Africa, which he said is one of the most medically underserved regions in the world. Embassy Mexico City also received vaccines, since it has some of the highest coronavirus numbers, and six local staff members there had died from COVID-19 as of early February. As of Feb. 2, 42 locally employed staff at U.S. embas- sies and consulates world- wide had died from COVID-19, Dr. Padget said. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in January that five American State Department employees have died from COVID-19. Several passport agen- cies in the United States also received vaccines from the second tranche because employees there were required to go to work in their offices, he said. MED received 26,400 doses in the third tranche. State distributed those vaccines to southern and eastern Africa, because many of those posts are in cities in the top 10 or 20 percent of cases worldwide, as well as to Beirut and Tunis. State also increased the number of vaccines offered to the local workforce in Washington, D.C., and New York. Dr. Padget fielded several questions from AFSA mem- bers. One participant asked what State’s plans are for people who are moving to a new post in the upcoming summer transfer season. He explained that if you are traveling overseas in a couple of months and you have your orders, MED will contact your new post to see what their supply is. You will either be vaccinated at that post, or MED will try to vaccinate you in Washing- ton, D.C., if it has sufficient supplies, he said. Another member asked who is responsible for USAID and other foreign affairs agencies locally in Wash- ington, D.C. Dr. Padget said there is considerable con- cern among officials about the issue: “Who’s responsible for the five [other] foreign affairs agencies? It’s not for me to decide that, but we are working toward a resolution.” Dr. Padget said he hopes that by late spring or early summer, the department will be able to “get a lot more vaccines out.” He also cautioned that “we don’t have anywhere near herd immunity” against COVID-19. Even people who have been vaccinated should continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on self-quarantining after international travel, social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks, Padget advised. n The State Department’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Larry Padget discusses the department’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines with AFSA members during a Feb. 2 Zoom event. AFSA/CAMERONWOODWORTH