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US military says a third of troops opt out of being vaccinated, but the numbers suggest it’s more

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Talks with military medical officers and service members, as well as data from various bases and units across the country, suggest that the current rejection rate may be closer to 50%.

“I think the true participation rate at this point would probably be around 50 percent,” a military health source said about the number of a military base of about 40,000 in active duty. The source spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss vaccinations.

A second military health source covering a different region told CNN the same trend. Those percentages are “consistent” with what they see, the source told CNN.

The acceptance rate at Fort Bragg, one of the largest army bases with about 57,000 military personnel, was just below 60%, an army official said Friday. Last month it was below 50%, but it has been slowly increasing.

The Department of Defense has approximately 2.2 million service members operating worldwide. For every 10% drop in the acceptance rate, there are 220,000 individuals who choose not to receive a vaccine, a number potentially enough to affect strength preparation. Last year, the military experienced a handful of high-profile outbreaks, including one aboard an aircraft carrier deployed in the Pacific.

Sailors register the vaccination site at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center on 15 March.

Vaccine acceptance figures are not definitive, nor do they encompass the entire military, but they do provide a window into what has so far been difficult to determine, suggesting that the vaccine acceptance rate may be lower. to two-thirds for now.

The military cannot make the vaccine mandatory now because it only has an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, that is, members of the service who must receive a series other vaccines have the option to decrease shots to protect against Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the military has begun a massive outreach effort among services to educate and inform service members about the vaccine, including town halls, virtual meetings and messages from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior military health officials. There is even a section of the Department of Defense website called “Rumor Control” dedicated to dispelling rumors and combating misinformation about the disease and vaccines.

“We have a vaccine, we have a tool, we have a way to help stop this pandemic, but not everyone feels comfortable getting the vaccine,” said Lt. Julia Cheringal, public health emergency officer at Portsmouth’s Virginia’s Naval Medical Center

“With all the noise, all the information, all the fact sheets being handed out to people, it’s an information overload,” Cheringal said. “If you can just sit down, virtually or socially distant in person, have a conversation with a medical provider, sometimes you can allow people to feel more comfortable in their decision.”

Lt.  Cmdr.  Julia Cheringal, public health emergency officer at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.

“What we’ve found is that they work on witnessing soldiers instead of guiding the CDC or the body surgeon or battalion or brigade surgeon,” said Colonel Joseph Buccino, a spokesman for Fort Bragg.

But the different levels of vaccination pose their own challenge. In a unit with a different base, the acceptance rate between emergency care professionals and high-priority health professionals was 55%, according to figures shared with CNN, which is not far from the estimated acceptance rate of two-thirds of the Pentagon. But as the unit lowered its levels, offering vaccines to other types of staff, the acceptance rate plummeted, going from less than 30% in the next phase to about 15% later.

The first level of military vaccines includes medical workers and those working in the emergency services, who may be more likely to accept the vaccine because of their proximity to COVID-19. The next level are frontline essential workers, troops preparing to deploy, and those responsible for critical national capabilities. The next level includes other essential workers and staff at increased risk of serious illness.

“As you go down by levels, the rate of negatives increases,” the first source explained. “The actual denial rate is probably over a third once we offer it correctly to everyone [on base] and once we have to document everyone, ”the source said, noting that there were some units that had a much higher acceptance rate.

The acceptance rate for the depressed vaccine is mainly due to hesitation among younger members of the service. Officials who spoke to CNN say younger troops generally consider Covid-19 to pose little risk to them.

The lowest rate is more widespread than a single unit or region.

Nebraska National Guard Deputy Chief of Staff said earlier this month that the vaccine had “generally a 30% vaccination rate.” The Washington National Guard had a slightly better openness rate of 39%, according to the state deputy general.

There is also a strong difference between the enrollment rate and vaccine acceptance officer, according to one of the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Although only 30% of officers opted for the vaccine in the source-covered region, more than 55% of enlisted service members rejected it. Enrolled service members represent more than 80% of the military.

Lt. Jennifer M. White opens the freezer used to store the Pfizer vaccine at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center on March 15th.

Defense officials have retreated in private against the suggestion that the rate is less than two-thirds or lower than the general population. They say the data available is now incomplete and that there is no system in place for the entire army to differentiate between people who choose to wait for their vaccination and those who directly refuse to receive the vaccine.

In addition, the vaccine has only been offered to a part of the army, so right now it is impossible to know a number of services.

CNN contacted the services for more information on the vaccine acceptance rate. The military and air force said they do not have a number for the acceptance percentage. The Navy said it recently began collecting this data and that it is not yet accurate or usable. The Marine Corps said “this information cannot be published” according to guidelines from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Younger troops

Hesitating younger troops to get the vaccine poses a major challenge for an army where, according to the latest Department of Defense demographic report, almost half of the enlisted staff is under 25 years old and a full 81% are under 35 years old.

A soldier who chooses not to receive the vaccine told CNN, “I’d rather see if side effects would occur in the near future before I take it.”

Another soldier shared a similar concern: “My fear is reacting badly to the vaccine or having a dangerous reaction that leaves me out of commission or blurs my body too much. I understand that the virus can do exactly the same thing.”

Last month, at a media roundtable in Hawaii, Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency, said the hesitation of the young troops was understandable.

“For someone who is young and healthy and doesn’t have the long-term information they want to know, it’s a rational question,” Place said. “The short-term security profile is exceptional, but no one, and I mean no one, knows long-term security.”

At the moment, demand still far exceeds supply, as lines are formed at different military facilities to obtain the vaccine, which is only available in limited quantities. Since last week, the military had received approximately 1.5 million doses and had administered more than 90% to military and civilian personnel.

At the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, appointments to receive available doses of vaccine have quickly filled up, with hundreds of service members passing by each day to receive their shots.

Karl Kronmann, medical director of immunization at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.

Officials expect the acceptance rate to increase as the vaccine spreads, allowing hesitant service members to see their colleagues complete the vaccination schedule.

“I’m sure we will continue to have doubts, but the more people get it, the more people will feel comfortable getting it,” said Captain Karl Kronmann, an infectious disease specialist at the Naval Medical Center. Portsmouth. “Some of them, it’s just a matter of hearing information from someone like me, they feel better about it. Others, once they see a partner get it and nothing bad happens, they feel better.”

Preparation problems

Austin has placed the fight against coronavirus among its top priorities, but the vacant ski pace raises questions about the military’s ability to maintain a high level of preparedness.

Last April, a Covid-19 outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt spread to more than 20% of the crew aboard the aircraft carrier and resulted in the final dismissal of the ship’s captain. In November, more than 100 US military installations worldwide establish some form of hardened sanitary measures to restrict the spread of coronavirus.
The Portsmouth Naval Medical Center vaccine freezer keeps the Pfizer vaccine at -75 degrees.

Officials say most of the vaccine’s hesitation comes from concerns about how quickly the vaccine was developed and fears about the long-term effects.

Specialist Carol Gotte had these same doubts, despite being a doctor. Talks with her command and medical professionals led her to accept the vaccine and she received her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in mid-February.

“If I’m going to relax my anxiety and fear of being around the people I love, it’s worth protecting them, even if I don’t care so much about protecting myself,” Gotte told CNN.

But for some service members who have opted to get the vaccine, the decision remains very personal and full of conflict.

“In fact, I didn’t tell my family I was going to get the vaccine until the day, because I knew they would discourage me because they had serious concerns,” Sergeant Scherrie Blackwell told the Indiana National Guard. His concerns, he said, ranged from the vaccine containing a live virus to being “guinea pigs” and worse. In the end, he felt compelled to be vaccinated.

“To get out of this, we have to do this, and so if you feel even a little bit like you can, you should do it.”

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