The Biden administration is working on offering COVID-19 vaccines to Afghan refugees, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.
Psaki also told reporters that refugees from Afghanistan arriving in the United States are being tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
“They are being tested, and we are working through offering vaccines and what that process will look like,” she said.
Psaki said that she will provide additional updates on a potential COVID-19 vaccine process for Afghan refugees in the coming days.
President Joe Biden has set an Aug. 31 deadline to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies from Kabul after nearly two decades of military presence in the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
On Monday, the Taliban terrorist organization, which seized control of Kabul on Aug. 15, warned of consequences if Biden fails to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops by the deadline.
The United States has authorized 34,500 visas, including 8,000 for Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) applicants. The SIV program was created to protect Afghan allies who risked their lives helping U.S. troops in the country.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday that only those who are “feeble or symptomatic” are screened by medical personnel for COVID-19 at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Kirby added that Afghan evacuees are then tested for COVID-19 upon arrival to the United States.
The spokesman said that officials are taking “appropriate precautions,” but “given the extraordinary circumstances, a blanket humanitarian exemption has been issued for COVID-19 testing for all individuals the U.S. government is transporting by aircraft from Afghanistan.”
The “blanket humanitarian waiver” was first announced by the State Department on Aug. 19.
As Afghanistan had been a hotspot for the CCP virus pandemic, medical exams, including COVID-19 tests, had been required for evacuees prior to the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, which added extra urgency to efforts to get at-risk Afghans out.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said during a press briefing on Monday that the United States has evacuated more than 37,000 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 14.
“In the last 24 hours alone, 28 U.S. military flights have evacuated approximately 10,400 people from Kabul,” he said.
Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin said in a statement that SIV applicants, their families and other individuals at risk began arriving at the army base on Sunday. This is in addition to Afghans currently undergoing processing at Fort Lee, Virginia. More arrivals are expected in the coming days.
Fort McCoy spokeswoman Cheryl Phillips said refugees are flying into Volk Field Air National Guard Base and being transported to Fort McCoy, which is located between Tomah and Sparta, about 100 miles northwest of Madison.
It was not immediately clear how many refugees Fort McCoy will be receiving. However, 1,000 soldiers from the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserve are assembling at Fort McCoy to provide support.
Fort McCoy is one three military installations in the United States approved by the Department of Defense for temporary housing. U.S. Northern Command is working to build additional capacity at the Wisconsin base, as well as at Fort Lee, Fort Bliss in Texas, and potentially other bases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.