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The U.S. Has Set Up A Mass Vaccination Site For Afghans Arriving In Virginia

Updated August 27, 2021 at 7:33 PM ET

Afghans and U.S. citizens continue to leave Afghanistan's capital in droves after the Taliban takeover and amid looming security threats. The U.S. is playing a role not only in mass evacuations but also in mass vaccination efforts, too.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened a COVID-19 vaccination site near Dulles International Airport in Virginia, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday, according to The Associated Press.

The site, which offers the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, has reportedly already started vaccinating Afghans. It has State Department interpreters available to answer questions.

The federal government also reportedly has opened a mobile vaccination unit at Dulles to administer shots to American citizens and green card holders arriving from Afghanistan.

Dulles has been the only point of entry for evacuees so far, with thousands arriving there daily. Civilian flights with refugees are set to begin arriving in Philadelphia as soon as Friday, and a senior Biden administration official told the AP a second mass vaccination site is expected at Philadelphia International Airport in the coming days. The official was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

What happens when evacuees reach the U.S.

Thousands of Afghans and Afghan U.S. citizens have arrived this month through Dulles via places such as Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Germany, Spain and Bulgaria. Grant Neely, a spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, put that number at 8,600 on Wednesday.

Arriving evacuees are tested for the coronavirus and isolated if they test positive. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who test negative are allowed to go home.

Just 11 of the 900 Afghan evacuees who were tested on Tuesday appeared to be infected with the virus, Neely said, according to the AP.

Afghans are taken to the Dulles Expo Center, then to military bases in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and New Jersey for processing.

There, they undergo health screenings and get help applying for work authorization and other services, Reuters reported. The processing can take anywhere from one day to one week, at which point Afghans get connected with U.S. resettlement organizations.

Virginia officials confirmed Friday that vaccination clinics are set up but said they are not being widely used.

"These people are just coming out of a war zone," Northam said. "They're landing in a new country. And so I think a lot of it is going to be educational. I don't think this is something you just automatically want to say, 'You need to get a shot.' So we're trying to at least handle some of these individuals with respect and, you know, kid gloves, rather than saying, 'Do this, do that.' "

Just 0.58% of Afghanistan's population is fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.