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World Insights: U.S. deploys troops to boost COVID-19 vaccinations in race against virus mutations

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 : More than 1,000 U.S. troops will be deployed to assist with a nationwide vaccination rollout amid fears of a new surge in infections and deaths caused by multiple new COVID-19 strains. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to “augment and expedite” the vaccination efforts, Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House’s coronavirus response team, said at a news conference on Friday. The move will send 1,110 active-duty service members to support five FEMA COVID-19 vaccination centers, according to Pentagon. Teams of 222 troops will support each one of the sites and will include medical and support personnel.

The first contingent of troops will arrive in vaccination centers opening in California over the next 10 days and begin operations around Feb. 15 with additional vaccination missions soon to follow, Slavitt said. President Joe Biden has called for setting up 100 mass vaccination centers around the country within a month. Biden’s national vaccination campaign aims to administer 100 million doses of two-stage coronavirus vaccines in his first 100 days in office. About 58.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed across the United States, but only about 36.8 million have been administered as of Friday morning, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The circulation of multiple new coronavirus strains in the country has increased the urgency for the Biden administration to accelerate the pace of vaccinations. A total of 618 infections of new variants had been reported in at least 33 U.S. states as of Thursday, according to the CDC. The United States has recorded more than 26.7 million COVID-19 cases with related deaths exceeding 458,000 as of Friday afternoon, showed a tally by Johns Hopkins University. A model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington shows that the United States is projected to see 631,000 COVID-19 deaths by June 1.

The result depends on the vaccine rollout and the spread of variants, said the IHME. A worst-case scenario could see the death toll go as high as 703,000. Increasing mask use from current levels of 77 percent to 95 percent can save 44,000 lives by June 1, according to the model. The IHME estimated that 17 percent of people in the United States had been infected as of Monday. The daily death rate is greater than 4 per million in 41 states.
“Daily deaths have peaked and are declining. By June 1, 2021, we project that 123,600 lives will be saved by the projected vaccine rollout,” the IHME said. The best strategies to manage this period of the pandemic are rapid scale-up of vaccination, continued and expanded mask-wearing and concerted efforts to avoid rebound mobility in the vaccinated, according to the institute.

Some states are lifting mandates rapidly, which poses a real risk of increased transmission as new variants spread and vaccination rates remain comparatively low, the IHME warned. (Xinhua)

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