DHS will start the COVID-19 vaccines in eight locations, but officials hope to expand the offering nationwide.
The Homeland Security Department has begun vaccinating its employees against COVID-19, joining five other federal agencies that have received distributions for internal use.
DHS has partnered with the Veterans Affairs Department to get the shots into employees' arms, so far setting up vaccination sites at eight VA facilities. The two departments reached an agreement to use DHS’ vaccine allotment provided through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but with VA staff administering the actual shots.
VA has already received its own distribution of nearly 940,000 vaccine doses and has initiated inoculations for more than 250,000. It has so far used about one-in-four of the vaccines it has received, lagging behind the one-in-three used by the nation as a whole. A VA spokesman said it has used 340,000 of the 600,000 first doses it has received, and more than 80% of its clinical providers have received at least one dose. All told, between VA, the Bureau of Prisons, the Defense Department and the Indian Health Service, federal agencies have received nearly 1.7 million doses and begun vaccinating about 484,000 individuals. That total includes both federal employees and the constituents those agencies serve.
All four of those agencies are vaccinating at a faster clip than they were a week ago. The Bureau of Prisons in particular appears to be taking a vastly different approach to other agencies, states and municipalities, already using 98% of the vaccine doses it has so far received.
The State Department has also received its own vaccine distribution, but has not made its inoculation figures public.
VA cited the 1932 Economy Act, which allows federal agencies to strike purchasing agreements with each other, as the authorizing statute underlying its collaboration with DHS.
“This is a team effort to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible to protect our veterans and citizens from COVID-19,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.
VA and Homeland Security eventually expect to expand the vaccination program to employees across the country, but DHS did not respond to an inquiry about how it determined who would qualify for the first batch or how many employees would be included in the initial effort. For now, DHS employees receiving the vaccine are geographically determined, as employees near the eight sites will qualify. At least some headquarters staff appear likely to receive inoculations in the first wave, as Washington was selected as a vaccination site. The eight locations are:
- Phoenix VA Health Care System in Arizona
- El Paso VA Health Care System in Texas
- South Texas Veterans Health Care System in San Antonio
- Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System in Harlingen, Texas
- Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California
- Brooklyn VA Medical Center in New York
- Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center
- Miami VA Healthcare System in Florida
This story was updated with additional information about VA's vaccine distribution.