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FEMA asks Pentagon to ready as many as 10,000 troops to support nationwide vaccine push

Johnson & Johnson seeking emergency vaccine authorization
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has asked the Pentagon to ready as many as 10,000 troops to support 100 COVID-19 vaccination sites nationwide, with the goal of administering 450,000 vaccinations a day. 

The federal government envisions 50 "mega" vaccination sites capable of administering 6,000 shots per day, in addition to 50 "large" vaccination sites providing 3,000 shots per day, according to defense officials. 

The first of the FEMA-powered vaccination sites are expected to be operating by mid-February, a senior White House official told CBS News, and will scale up as vaccine production intensifies in the coming months. 

FEMA's "Prepare to Deploy Order" to the Department of Defense (DOD) is expected to be approved, but has not yet been greenlighted. California, Virginia, Michigan, Delaware and New Mexico are among the states that have requested federally run vaccine centers. 

The FEMA-run sites will be entirely new in most cases, according to a senior White House official, but the federal agency will work with governors to provide personnel and support to existing state-run vaccination centers where they're needed. The agency will offer funding, logistics, staffing and mobile vaccination clinics, but governors are free turn down DOD deployments to their state. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom's office, which has been struggling with high infection rates for months, is relying on FEMA for help in establishing "high-volume vaccination sites" in several locations. The California National Guard announced it will be assisting at two facilities to start: Cal Expo-Sacramento and the Long Beach Convention Center. 

Michigan has requested up to 16 federally supported sites statewide, according to its Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division. "It is clear that additional vaccine will not be immediately available to support these sites, however planning will begin to ensure that sites are available when there is sufficient vaccine to support them," a spokesperson told CBS News.

Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist and the Pentagon's COVID coordinator, Max Rose, visited a FEMA site in Arizona Friday for a firsthand assessment of what military support is needed.

"This is not a militarization of the vaccination operation or federalization of vaccines," a senior White House official told CBS News. "This is the United States government providing whatever assistance is needed in parts of the community, in support of the governor."

President Biden announced Monday that the administration had its sights set on more ambitious vaccination targets, and hoped the U.S. could ramp up capacity to administer 1.5 million shots daily. The administration is increasing the weekly supply of COVID-19 vaccines to states and territories by 16% next week and the White House has boosted its vaccine forecast to give governors a three-week heads-up on forthcoming allocations of the shots, helping them better plan distribution of the vaccine. The Biden administration argues that the government faces distribution challenges that go beyond the availability of doses. 

"The issue is not just vaccine supply," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday.  

"By the summer, we will have enough supply for the public. But that doesn't ensure that everybody will have had a vaccine," Psaki said. "We need to ensure we have the materials to distribute the vaccine, the vaccinators and qualified individuals to literally put the shots in the arms of Americans, and the places to do it."  

But states have expressed different concerns about the race to vaccinate their residents. CBS News reached out to all 50 states and Washington, D.C. to ask them about the biggest obstacle to distributing the vaccine in their state. Over half responded, and all of them, regardless of the state's political leaning, pointed to vaccine supply. 

"Our greatest concern is getting increased vaccine allotment to support it," a spokesperson from Delaware's Emergency Management Agency told CBS News.  

Officials from a handful of states – including Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Vermont – say they'll need more information about the rate of manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine before they'll know how much extra federal assistance they'll need.  

Oklahoma Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said his state would be interested in FEMA-supported vaccination sites — if they offer additional shots. "We are certainly interested in this option if indeed it includes more vaccine allocation," Reed told CBS News. "If it is simply a redirection of our existing vaccine supply, we would have to carefully consider our ability to direct the activities to ensure it met with our citizen's needs." 

A spokesperson from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's office noted that, "while additional support is welcome, North Carolina has currently administered 95% of the first doses received by the state, and additional supply remains a critical need."

"Our largest concern is just having more doses. Our state partners are able to administer nearly all doses each week," Joe Dougherty, director of public affairs for Utah's department of public safety, wrote in an email to CBS News, adding, "We just want to have proper expectations about what is coming and when." 

"Indiana currently has 215 vaccination sites available and has built capacity for mass vaccination clinics," a spokesperson from Indiana's Department of Health said. "We simply need more vaccine." 

"We have more demand for vaccinations than we have vaccine," Mike Nowatzki, communications director for North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, told CBS News. "We have the infrastructure and would like to administer more doses each week." 

"The main thing Idaho needs is more vaccine," said Zachary Clark, spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Health. "Currently demand for vaccine in Idaho far outpaces supply."

Governors on both sides of the aisle have pushed the federal government for more shots, casting doubts on plans to concentrate resources around opening up more vaccination sites. 

"You're saying you're going to put federal resources in this and create your own [vaccination] sites," Florida Governor DeSantis said in a Fox News appearance Thursday night. "It is really not necessary," the Republican governor added. "I think a lot of Democratic governors agree with me. Just get more supply of the vaccine because we were promised initially that we were going to get more up to this point. I can get it into seniors' arms if we just get more in the shipments." 

"The distribution points or healthcare workers right now are not our constraint," New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy – a Democrat – said on MSNBC Thursday. "The constraining factor right now is supply of doses."  

The doses are on the way, the White House COVID-19 Response Team promises.  

"We have an anticipated 600 million doses that we will have by over the summer, enough to vaccinate all people over age 16," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told "CBS This Morning" Friday. 

Governors already have federal personnel in place to help with the vaccination effort. The Defense Department says nearly 20,000 members of the National Guard have been called to assist at 260 vaccination sites in 26 states and territories across the country – and many of them were deployed while still under orders of the Trump administration. 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Thursday that FEMA's request for military assets would be "reviewed urgently but carefully." 

"We are obviously going to source this request," Kirby said.

By Wednesday, FEMA had obligated more than $1.2 billion to states, territories and tribes to cover COVID-19 vaccination expenses at 100% federal cost share and more than $57.5 billion to fund the pandemic response, according to a spokesperson.  

The agency has already deployed 200 of its own personnel to help out at state vaccination centers in nine states: Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. Coast Guard has deployed 18 reservists and is identifying 1,000 more for future missions, according to FEMA.

Ellee Watson, Ed O'Keefe, Sara Cook, Natalie Brand and Bo Erickson contributed to this report.  

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