Back to Top Skip to main content

McCaffery offers HA perspective to COVID-19

Man in mask presents military coin to female soldier Kudos from the top... the Honorable Thomas McCaffery, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs presents a personal coin to Hospitalman Katherine Evans, assigned to Naval Hospital Bremerton's OB/GYN clinic for her sustained efforts in supporting patients during the ongoing pandemic outbreak. McCaffery and U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place, Defense Health Agency (DHA) director visited NHB July 16, 2020 to observe first-hand the commitment by Navy Medicine in helping stop the spread of COVID-19, as well as discuss the ongoing evolution of the military health system in ensuring the commitment to mission readiness (Official Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Meagan Christoph, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton public affairs).

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

As it became increasingly clear that the highly contagious respiratory infection COVID-19 would span the globe, leadership within the Department of Defense quickly tapped its own experts for potential solutions.

“We were immediately looking to our research folks and saying, well, what are we doing in this area that can be leveraged?” said Thomas McCaffery, DoD's assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. “We then brought that to our senior leaders with ideas about how we could accelerate and redirect research dollars in other areas to vaccine and therapeutics development.”

Since coming aboard, McCaffery said he has witnessed the strength of the DoD during a national crisis due to the pandemic. “Our uniformed leaders and our civilians are exceptionally good at adapting to change; it’s part of the culture, part of their DNA,” he said. From the onset, the DoD showcased its ability to pivot with the deployment of forces to support local governments, including moving hospital ships on both U.S. coasts and quickly setting up field hospitals in cities to account for a potential influx of patients. “The enemy, so to speak, changed our direction and we needed to be able to adapt accordingly,” he said. “It was like clockwork.”

McCaffery admitted that nearly all his time and energy have focused on the Military Health System’s response to the pandemic as hospitals and health care workers across the country became overwhelmed with critical cases requiring additional support. Typically, military medical forces deploy to care for trauma-related injuries. “This was vastly different, a very different enemy,” he said. “As we saw in New York City, we had several hundred of our uniformed medical providers actually helping staff civilian hospitals.”

Military medical forces played a core role in the domestic response to COVID-19 in supporting medical infrastructure to help the nation, he added. The DoD also leveraged current research and vaccine development efforts into highly contagious and deadly viruses. For example, military scientists applied ongoing research into Remdesivir to treat Ebola-like viruses and tested it against COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the drug for use in COVID-19. Citing research in medical counter measures to keep troops safe as one example, McCaffery said, “We were very quick to pivot and leverage that kind of research that has already been going on for our military purposes to focusing on vaccine research and development for COVID-19 therapeutics for treatment.” As part of the normal course of business for the DoD, researchers will continue to accelerate appropriate vaccine candidates and different therapeutic candidates, he added.

While the DoD research scope is largely for military operational purposes, the science has far-reaching implications to the civilian health care sector, especially when combating an unknown disease like COVID-19, explained McCaffery, who has more than 20 years in the health care sector.

A recently published report by the Navy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studying the COVID-19 outbreak on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt found that among sailors exposed to the virus, almost 20% were asymptomatic.

Continued testing across the services could yield insight into the impact of the disease on a subset of the population, specifically a fit fighting force. “We don’t have all the data right now to say we know exactly what that infection rate is across the board and how many are asymptomatic, but that’s what we’re continuing to do with the data we are collecting,” he said.

The framework exists across the MHS to track trends and results from observational studies for force health protection. “I think we’re good for the long term and we’re pushing really for the quickest and safest way to get a vaccine out there and therapeutics out there,” he said. “While we are hunkered down and focused on as early as possible getting vaccines and therapeutics available for our active duty, we also know that we don’t know where that’s going to go.”

While McCaffery couldn’t have predicted just a few years ago that he would be among those leading a response to a global pandemic, he is confident the department will continue to be a central part of the whole government response to COVID-19 while also continuing to meet the needs of the MHS.

“It is kind of a COVID all day every day, and what we want to do is be able to figure out how we continue that support while moving some of the other significant changes in the health care system forward,” he said.

Over the years, core investments into research and development made it possible to leverage existing research to COVID-19. Those same investments will give the DoD the ability to respond to future threats, be they natural or man-made, McCaffery said. “Our folks are always looking at what’s the next thing on the horizon,” he added. “That is normal operating procedure for the department.”

You also may be interested in...

Army Recruiter volunteers to administer COVID-19 vaccination

Article
3/2/2021
Military health personnel wearing a face mask giving someone the COVID-19 Vaccine

Army Master Sgt. Carolyn Lange has kept up her skills as a licensed practical nurse by administering COVID-19 vaccines on Fort George G. Meade in Maryland

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Toolkit

COVID-19: DOD vaccinates more than 1 million beneficiaries worldwide

Article
3/1/2021
Military personnel wearing face mask standing in line to receive their COVID-19 Vaccine

As DOD surpasses the administration of 1 million COVID-19 vaccine shots in arms, leaders reflect on how each military treatment facility community made the success possible, despite challenges.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Toolkit

DOD officials provide COVID-19 response update

Article
3/1/2021
Military personnel wearing a face mask handling prescription refills at a pharmacy

DoD officials present update on COVID-19 response efforts

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Toolkit | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Cardiovascular providers counter pandemic-induced sedentary lifestyle

Article
2/26/2021
Military health personnel sticking an IV in a patient's arm

COVID-19 fears likely affecting cardiovascular care but not at military medical treatment facilities.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Heart Health | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | February Toolkit | Preventing Heart Disease

Secretary of Defense Video to the Force on COVID-19 Vaccinations

Video
2/24/2021
Image of soldier looking through COVID vaccine information laid out on a table

The Secretary of Defense addressed the entire workforce to encourage informed decision-making with regards to coronavirus-19 vaccination.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Trained military personnel ready to help with COVID-19 vaccinations

Article
2/23/2021
Military health personnel wearing a mask giving the COVID-19 vaccine to a man who is also wearing a face mask

Military prepped and ready to help with civilian COVID-19 mass vaccinations

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Immunizations

DOD participates in new COVID-19 antibody combination prevention trial

Article
2/23/2021
Woman gets blood drawn

Five DoD sites across the United States will be part of the STORM CHASER trial, a study to observe the efficacy of a long-lasting antibody product to prevent COVID-19 among people who have been exposed to others suffering from the disease.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Marines, Sailors with PHIBRON 11, 31st MEU receive COVID-19 vaccine

Article
2/19/2021
Military health personnel giving the COVID-19 Vaccine to military personnel

Vaccination for service members is voluntary, as vaccines are currently authorized for emergency use.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Immunization Healthcare | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

USU cohort study investigates COVID-19 impacts on DOD personnel

Article
2/18/2021
Military health personnel wearing a mask and a face shield holding up a sign that has the number eighteen on it

USU is conducting a study to better understand the symptoms and course of COVID-19 disease and identify risk factors in the military population.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Toolkit | Immunizations | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus

COVID-19, Influenza provide twice the challenge to healthcare workers

Article
2/17/2021
Military personnel wearing a face mask while holding hand sanitizer

The ongoing pandemic outbreak has overlapped with the annual Northern Hemisphere influenza season.

Recommended Content:

Influenza Vaccine Availability | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 vaccine does not affect fertility, immunization experts say

Article
2/16/2021
Black and white photo of a couple holding hands

COVID-19 vaccination when pregnant or breastfeeding shows no harm, immunologists weigh in.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

DHA IT helps beneficiaries, providers and workforce through pandemic

Article
2/12/2021
Several military personnel, wearing masks, filling out paperwork. One woman is giving the thumbs up sign

DHA IT Teams Deliver Innovative Solutions During Pandemic.

Recommended Content:

Technology | Coronavirus

Printable VAX Fact Should Children Get the COVID Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vax Facts

Printable VAX Fact Will TRICARE Cover the COVID Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vax Facts

Printable VAX Fact Getting COVID and Flu Vaccine at Once

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vax Facts
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 26

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.