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USDA staff to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines

February 19, 2021

APHIS deploys 119 employees in Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington state and Oregon to assist in vaccinations.

By: Jacqui Fatka

The USDA announced plans to deploy qualified personnel across several states to assist in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. In a notice to stakeholders, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Acting Administrator Mike Watson says APHIS has deployed 119 employees to assist in efforts to increase the number of vaccinations given.

“We are fortunate to have many highly skilled veterinary medical officers and animal health technicians who have the proper training, experience and certifications to help accomplish this life-saving task, and we expect more deployments in the coming days,” Watson wrote Feb. 17.

The majority of APHIS’ deployed employees are assigned to Nevada and Oklahoma where they are helping to vaccinate people at a variety of rapid points of distribution including mobile teams and pop-up clinics. In addition, 8 employees have deployed to Texas to provide resource management support for a vaccination site; 6 employees have virtually deployed to assist Washington State in planning vaccination efforts; 4 employees have virtually deployed to assist Oregon; and 9 employees have virtually deployed to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We are honored that we can contribute to this most vital of missions that will benefit every facet of American life, including agriculture. At this time, the majority of employees are deploying from our animal care and veterinary services programs, but we also have some employees deploying from our biotechnology regulatory services, emergency, regulatory and compliance services, international services, marketing and regulatory programs business services, and plant protection and quarantine programs,” says Watson.

Watson notes APHIS will make every effort to minimize service disruptions and asks for patience when delays occur. “We want to be upfront about this likelihood and make you aware we are taking steps to prioritize activities customers depend on, including endorsing health certificates, issuing permits and conducting inspections for new license applications,” he adds.

Most deployments are lasting 30 days, but APHIS expects several rounds of deployments may be needed to help achieve the president’s goal of distributing 100 million COVID-19 vaccines in the first 100 days of his administration.

“We will also be reaching out to USDA’s accredited veterinarians to seek additional volunteers who have the skills to help with this nationwide effort,” he says.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have committed to meeting the needs of our customers while navigating the challenges of the pandemic and ensuring the safety of our employees. Nearly one year later, this continues to be our goal, and we hope that our efforts to vaccinate the public will help us all return to business as usual that much sooner,” Watson concludes.

The National Pork Producers Council applauds the USDA for taking this action. NPPC President Howard “A.V.” Roth, a pork producer from Wauzeka, Wisc., notes: “The U.S. pork industry takes its role as an essential economic sector seriously and has made considerable investments to ensure the safety of its workers while maintaining its commitment to the nation’s food security. Of course, vaccination is the best defense against COVID-19, and we are grateful to the USDA for making personnel available to accelerate this national priority.”