Secretary of Defense Austin Issues Guidance for Mandatory Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination of Department of Defense Service Members

The COVID-19 vaccination is now mandatory for all U.S. military personnel.

The move comes after the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. Under the previous FDA emergency authorization, service members could opt not to be vaccinated.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III issued the order on Aug. 25 in a memorandum for Mandatory Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination of Department of Defense Service Members.

“To defend this nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Austin said in his memo. “After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the president, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is necessary to protect the force and defend the American people.

“Mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all of our service members, and mission-critical inoculation is almost as old as the U.S. military itself,” he continued. “Our administration of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines has produced admirable results to date, and I know the Department of Defense will come together to finish the job, with urgency, professionalism, and compassion.”

The memo directs the Secretaries of the Military Departments to immediately begin full vaccination of all members of the Armed Forces under DOD authority on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Service members who are actively participating in COVID-19 clinical trials are exempted from mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 until the trial is complete in order to avoid invalidating such clinical trial results.

The Secretaries of the Military Departments were also directed to impose ambitious timelines for implementation and to report regularly on vaccination completion using established systems for other mandatory vaccine reporting.

John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Aug. 23 the health of DOD’s military and civilian employees, families and communities is a top priority. “These efforts ensure the safety of our service members and promote the readiness of our force, not to mention the health and safety of the communities around the country in which we live.”

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