The State Department is now requiring all contractors in Afghanistan “to ensure” that all their personnel are fully vaccinated for Covid-19, according to a department memo sent to contractors this week that was reviewed by CNN.
This order is a clear effort to stem rising Covid-19 infections among US personnel in Kabul after a series of recent outbreaks at the embassy there forced a shut down in operations, including visa interviews for Afghans who worked with the US military as interpreters and translators and are now applying to come to the US.
The contractors must affirm that their employees are all vaccinated within 45 days of the July 13 decision, the memo says. In addition, any incoming contractors must be fully vaccinated before traveling to the country, the memo says.
“The maintenance of a healthy and safe workplace is of the highest concern and mitigating risk to the workforce is of critical importance,” Michael W. Derrios, the department’s senior procurement executive, writes in the memo.
A State Department spokesman told CNN that “in response to an intense third wave of Covid-19 cases throughout the country, including an outbreak on the Embassy Kabul compound, the Embassy is implementing additional mitigation measures to ensure the continued safety, security, and health of our staff.
“Embassy Kabul has very limited medical facilities and difficulty treating patients on compound and therefore is taking the extra precaution of requiring contractors to deploy only vaccinated workers to Kabul,” the spokesman continued. “We continue to closely monitor the situation and adjust our operations as needed to ensure the continued safety, security, and health of our staff as they advance US interests and our relationship with Afghanistan.”
A June 17 embassy management notice warned that “COVID-19 is surging in the Mission,” and noted that there were 114 people with coronavirus and in isolation, one death, and several medical evacuations. CNN reported on June 23 that the Covid-19 outbreak at the diplomatic post had grown to 159 cases.
Tensions over Covid
According to the June 17 embassy notice, “95% of our cases are individuals who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated,” and it called for those coming to the embassy to be vaccinated before arrival, noting that “failure to do this puts everyone in the community at risk.”
The surges in Covid-19 cases fueled tensions in Kabul, sources told CNN, with some pointing the blame at unvaccinated contractors. Earlier this summer, the vaccination rate for contractors was not as high as the rate for American diplomats, third country nationals, and locally employed staff, according to a State Department management notice and an official at a major international security provider for the US in Afghanistan.
In a separate letter reviewed by CNN, the Kabul embassy’s charge d’affaires, Ross Wilson, wrote that he consulted with the embassy’s medical providers, the Bureau of Medical Services, and the department’s leadership in order to make the determination requiring contractors to be vaccinated.
The State Department did not explain why this decision was being made now, after hundreds of US personnel were infected with Covid-19.
The State Department decision comes after the commanding general of the Army base at Fort Rucker, Alabama, issued orders on the same day that for the first time compel unmasked service members to show proof of vaccination to their leaders for the first time.
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