Pentagon building aerial FILE
Washington CNN  — 

The Pentagon is expected to receive “just under 44,000 doses” of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine early next week, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery announced Wednesday, with the first doses going to medical personnel and a select number of senior leaders.

“In the coming days, we expect the department to receive its first allotment of the vaccine,” McCaffery told reporters at the Pentagon.

The initial allocation of doses will only cover a fraction of the Pentagon’s workforce of about 1.3 million active-duty troops and more than 2.8 million total employees.

The prioritization plan for Defense Department personnel, CNN reported on Tuesday, will begin with medical personnel and then “critical national capabilities,” including the nuclear deterrence force, homeland defense forces, select Special Operations Command and Cyber Command units, and “key national strategic leadership.”

The Pentagon also confirmed that a small number of senior leaders would be among the first to receive the vaccine, an action that is partly being taken in order to help convince military personnel that it is safe.

While the bulk of senior military leaders will receive the vaccine after medical personnel, a select few will receive it in the earliest phase.

“We do intend as part of this initial phase of healthcare workers, emergency responders, et cetera, have some very small set of very visible leaders that will volunteer to take the vaccine, do it in a public way as one way of helping to message the safety and efficacy and underscore that we are encouraging all those eligible personnel to take the vaccine,” McCaffery said.

“Right now we would be looking at current senior leaders,” he added, listing Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, Deputy Secretary David Norquist, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten, and the senior enlisted adviser to the Joint Staff as those who would receive the vaccine in the earliest phase.

Chief Pentagon Spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said that the intent was for the senior officials to take the vaccine publicly in order to help convince military and civilian defense department personnel that it is safe and effective.

Officials said there were no current plans to offer the vaccine to President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for defense secretary, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin.

But officials stressed that the bulk of the 44,000 doses will go to front line healthcare workers.

“Of those 44,000 a huge majority will be for first responders, critical healthcare people and a very very limited number to critical national capabilities in this first tranche,” Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, the Defense Health Agency director said.

Senior leaders are considered “critical national capabilities” by the Pentagon.

One of the reasons that convincing personnel that the vaccine is safe is so critical is that the vaccine will be voluntary.

The vaccine “is voluntary for everyone” Place said, due to it being expected to only receive emergency use authorization from the FDA, while adding that “the Department is strongly encouraging everyone to take it,” Place said.

Sixteen military installations in the US, Europe and Asia were selected to receive the vaccine.

Place said those locations were chosen due their having cold storage capability, significant medical staff, and large populations.

Not all of the facilities will receive the same allotments.

After senior leaders and elite units are vaccinated, the next group to receive the vaccine will include personnel preparing to deploy within the next three months, including military, civilian and contractors who would normally receive Defense Department vaccines in pre-deployment.

The group after that will include “other critical and essential defense department personnel,” including select members of the military, staff working in Defense Department schools, child and youth services, and food handlers on military installations.

Following phases will include “high risk” beneficiaries, and then healthy uniformed military personnel.