Thaïs Chinaud

Defence and International Security Researcher

Vaccine Delivery in the Defence Sector

Defence sector has undergone a major change in its public image and perception. For many, the military is associated with dictatorial regimes, war time or political uncertainty. However, in the past year, the armies of many countries were the ones to bring some clarity and certainty into the turbulent health crisis. 

In France, the operation Resilience is the military operation that aims to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Launched on 25th March 2020, it mobilized the French Army in its vaccine roll out efforts and also provided critical support to civil authorities in their operations where required. The French Army in this case sought to manage and protect military hospitals, evacuating Covid-infected patients by helicopter, providing masks, distributing food and supplies in care homes and ensuring logistical support and protecting sensitive areas. 

Similarly, in the UK, over 5,200 military personnel are committed to Covid-19 operations in the UK and abroad. Their tasks typically include vaccine rollout, NHS support and community testing across the UK. Military Medics have been notable on the frontline as many key health workers were suffering the burnout due to the pandemic. More than 600 military medics had been deployed to NHS hospitals in the UK. Support for vaccine delivery in the utilisation of strategic defence capabilities has proved to many how defence resources can be exploited for the benefit of a nation under a pandemic attack. Peacetime efforts by the military in this regard is seen to be a reassuring posture for nations struggling with healthcare infrastructure. Exceptional military planning and precision has been vital for the success of this vaccine delivery on the front line to help the NHS. The UK Ministry of Defence since March 2020, has responded to over 300 Military Aid to Civilian Authorities (MACA) requests. These measures have aided in the delivery of vaccines to overseas territories such as Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Ascension Island.

Other European nations such as Italy and Germany, have also used their military to accelerate the mobilisation and deployment of human resources. Many other countries have also adapted to the use of military logistics during the pandemic; transportation of masks, vaccines, materials and patients. In all these scenarios, reactivity and efficiency are the key, and are better achieved by the well structured hierarchy. However, in some states such as Germany or Spain, the lack of health workers, the opening of field hospitals, largely operated by the military, showed the malfunctioning and unpreparedness of the healthcare system towards the crisis. In many European countries, such as Switzerland and Scandinavia, the presence of the military on a daily basis could be seen exceptionally during the pandemic times.

However, there are other states, which could potentially benefit from the situation, and turn the health crisis into a more complicated political scheme. 

Defence support towards the vaccine delivery is an important role that cannot be ignored as we see from the vital support provided to its civilian counterparts. This must not in any way be construed to be an overreliance on Military support but rather a sustainment effort to support and protect its citizenry. The last 12 months has certainly redefined the role of the armed forces in society. The defence sector proved to play one of the key roles in the resolution of COVID19 crisis. Indeed, the support they provided to civilians showed that the Army represents modulable resources, able to adapt to any kind of situation, no matter what the operation field is, due to its culture of crisis management.

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