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On the Front Lines of Diplomacy, but at the Back of the Vaccine Queue

Eighty percent of those vaccines have been sent overseas — on par with the number of full-time State Department employees who work abroad, if not their family members or contractors. But diplomats noted higher risks of infection and lower quality of health care in many countries that were not at all comparable to conditions in the United States.

One official based in the Middle East said that the medical staff in some American embassies had been sent back to Washington to administer vaccines to officials there, leaving the impression that overseas personnel were not a priority.

Just as across the United States, officials at the department’s headquarters have struggled with delivering a vaccine that requires subzero temperature controls to more than 270 diplomatic posts worldwide. In recent weeks, the State Department obtained more than 200 freezers for embassies and consulates to use for storing the vaccines, 80 percent of which had been delivered, Ms. Perez said.

She also acknowledged “missteps,” such as in December, when an unspecified number of doses that were stored at the wrong temperature in Washington needed to be used immediately or go to waste. They were given to department employees who were put on a priority list by their managers and able to come to the medical unit at State Department headquarters on short notice during the holidays.

Much of the first tranche of doses went to the department’s frontline workers: medical, maintenance and diplomatic security personnel, and officials who work in round-the-clock operations centers that monitor diplomatic and security developments around the world. Vaccines were also given to employees at the State Department’s missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

What was left over, for the most part, went to Washington-area employees who worked from government offices at least eight hours each week.

In January, diplomats in Mexico City, across West Africa and in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, received the vaccine — as did employees at passport offices in Arkansas, New Hampshire and New Orleans. Additional Washington-area employees were also given doses.


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