FOXNews.com, July 29, 2009
The Pentagon is preparing to make troops available if necessary to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency tackle a potential outbreak of the H1N1 virus this fall, FOX News has confirmed.
This comes as a government panel recommends certain groups be placed at the front of the line for swine flu vaccinations this fall, including pregnant women, health care workers and children six months and older.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel also said those first vaccinated should include parents and other caregivers of infants; non-elderly adults who have high-risk medical conditions, and young adults ages 19 to 24. The panel, whose recommendations typically are adopted by federal health officials, voted to set vaccination priorities for those groups Wednesday during a meeting in Atlanta.
Obama administration officials told Congress that H1N1 vaccinations won't be available for several months.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to sign an order authorizing the military to set up five regional teams to deal with the potential outbreak of H1N1 influenza if FEMA requests help.
A senior U.S. defense official told FOX News that the plan calls for military task forces to work in conjunction with the FEMA. No final decision has been reached on how the military effort would be manned, but one source said it likely would include personnel from all branches of the military.
It is not known how many troops would be needed and whether they would come from the active duty or the National Guard and Reserve forces.
In the event of a major outbreak, civilian authorities would lead any relief efforts, the official said. The military, as it would for a natural disaster or other significant emergency situation, could provide support and fulfill any tasks that civilian authorities could not, such as air transport or testing of large numbers of viral samples from infected patients.
As a first step, military leaders have asked Gates to authorize planning for the potential assistance.
Orders to deploy actual forces would be reviewed later, depending on how much of a health threat the flu poses this fall, the officials said.
FOX News' Jennifer Griffin, Brian Wilson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.