The Biden administration will resume flights with Afghan evacuees into U.S. cities from overseas bases following a pause to vaccinate thousands of people.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Monday that the flights from the Middle East, Europe, and domestic flights will start this week after a vaccination campaign.
“The success of this vaccination campaign demonstrates our commitment to the health and well-being of arriving Afghan evacuees, the personnel assisting this mission, and the American people,” said Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, the DHS chief medical officer and lead medical adviser for the operation, in a statement.
The goal of the operation, said DHS response official Robert Fenton, is “to successfully resettle our Afghan allies into local communities while prioritizing national security and public health,” adding that it’s part of an “enduring commitment to those who supported or worked on behalf of our Nation over the last twenty years.”
About 49,000 Afghan evacuees who were flown out of the country over the summer during a rushed and chaotic evacuation received vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, COVID-19, chickenpox, and other diseases. Last month, flights to the United States were suspended after measles cases were discovered among the evacuees.
Weeks later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that evacuees who had arrived in the United States were not only infected with measles, but tuberculosis, malaria, and COVID-19.
On Sept. 21, the agency “has been notified by public health departments of 16 measles cases among the evacuees. All patients confirmed to have measles have been isolated and provided care,” said the CDC, “and their contacts have been quarantined. Contacts who were not immune were given the MMR vaccine or, if not vaccine-eligible, immunoglobulin.” MMR refers to the measles, mumps, and rubella shot.
The military bases where the Afghans are being housed include Fort Pickett in Virginia, Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Dix in New Jersey, and Camp Atterbury in Indiana, said officials last month.
Starting Tuesday, Afghanistan’s Taliban will start issuing passports to its citizens following months of delays that hampered attempts by those trying to flee the country after the Taliban seized control in August. The process, which had slowed even before the Islamic extremists’ return to power following the withdrawal of U.S. forces, will provide applicants with documents physically identical to those issued by the previous government, the Taliban said.
Reuters contributed to this report.