The U.S. military has been invaluable during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis — but will have to be better prepared to handle the next pandemic, a former Pentagon military assistant is warning.
In commentary for Defense One, Lt. Col. Adam Scher, the former military assistant to the senior adviser to the Secretary of Defense for COVID, called the military’s involvement an ''unprecedented use of America’s modern military apparatus to battle an unseen enemy on American soil.''
''But even as the Defense Department provided unique support to whole-of-society efforts to bring lifesaving vaccines to the American populace, it was clear that the pandemic exposed blind spots,'' he wrote.
''Our armed services must include biodefense when planning, programming, and budgeting for America’s defense,'' he urged.
He wrote that future funding must also cover appropriate coronavirus testing capability for the military, the expansion of ''critical medical preparedness supplies at the unit level'' — including testing supplies, personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, and vaccines — and better coordination with federal agencies’ medical research efforts.
Scher hailed the involvement of the National Guard and Reserve personnel from March 2020 at the beginning of the virus outbreak in the United States.
In some instances, members were ''pulled from local communities where they were needed in their civilian capacity in order to serve as first responders elsewhere within the same state,'' he wrote.
He also touted senior military leaders who were enlisted for Operation Warp Speed ''with the singular purpose of mobilizing the public health industrial base'' and ''harnessing'' the Pentagon’s contracting and logistics infrastructure.
This February, military personnel administered more than 17 million vaccine doses to the American people, with almost 5 million delivered by active duty personnel and over 12 million supported by the National Guard, he wrote.
''To date, the Department has protected its force and families by administering more than 4.7 million vaccinations to service members, their families, civilians, contractors, and other DoD beneficiaries,'' he wrote.
The effort has resulted in more than 75% of active duty service having completed at least one dose of a vaccine — a rate exceeding the nation as a whole.
And, he wrote, the Pentagon is also looking ahead, pointing to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease already beginning human testing on a next-generation broad-spectrum vaccine that could protect against current and future strains of the coronavirus.
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