NEWS | March 2, 2021

China Task Force Begins Work; DOD Makes Progress on COVID-19

By Jim Garamone DOD NEWS

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III gave marching orders to the China Task Force today.

The task force, led by Ely Ratner, is engaged in a sprint to identify priorities for the Defense Department with regards to the near-peer, Asian competitor, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said.

Kirby spoke during a press briefing, where he also discussed DOD's COVID-19 vaccination program.

Austin provided initial guidance to the China Task Force, which draws participants from the office of the secretary of defense, the Joint Staff, the armed services, the combatant commands and the intelligence community. "Today's meeting is intended to formalize the mission, timing and outputs of the task force as they work towards a baseline assessment of departments, policies, programs and processes on China-related matters," Kirby said.

The task force will finish in about four months. At the end, DOD officials want to provide Austin with specific and actionable recommendations and milestones to meet the China challenge. Over the years, there have been many initiatives that addressed growing Chinese provocations in many areas. The secretary wants an assessment of the best ways to defend the international, rules-based order that has kept great power peace since the end of World War II.

The DOD effort is part of the government's look at U.S.-China relations. The DOD China Task Force will specifically look at the DOD's interaction with China, Kirby said. "What the secretary wants Mr. Ratner to do is to look at the pacing challenge that China poses to the department from our perspective, and what we need to do to make sure we're ready to meet that challenge," Kirby said.

The finding will be used as part of the Global Posture Review that is already going on in the department.

Kirby announced that DOD will begin receiving shipments of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine in the next week. The one-shot vaccine gives service members another choice as they make decisions about getting protected.

The Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization for three COVID-19 vaccines, which means service members have the option of decline. The military seems to be mirroring the civilian community with about a third either delaying the shot or opting out.

Kirby said Austin is aware that some people of color fear getting the inoculation. "He's mindful that there are cultural and community concerns in many, many people of color about the vaccine, some of it's based on some painful history," Kirby said.

Austin received the shot after consultations with his family and doctors. Kirby said the secretary believes DOD needs to do a better job of providing the right kind of information and context about the vaccine so they can make decisions for themselves.

Within DOD, medics have administered 1,144,697 doses of the vaccine; 735,000 are initial doses, and 409,000 are second doses.

DOD continues to send out active-duty teams to help communities vaccinate against COVID-19. There are 10 teams deployed around the United States to put vaccines into citizens' arms. Large teams of 222 service members are operating in California and Texas. Another is due to start in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, and one will begin in Illinois on Friday. Small teams of up to 139 are operating in New Jersey, Texas, New York, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida. More small teams will go to New Jersey and North Carolina in the coming days.