Defense Department making COVID vaccinations mandatory

Members of the U.S. military will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccination beginning in mid-September under new guidelines outlined in a memorandum from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Aug. 9.

As such, the vaccine will be added to the list of mandatory shots that all service members must have. Failure to comply could result in disciplinary action.

Currently, service members have been able to ‘opt out’ of the vaccine because the three vaccines authorized in the United States — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson — only have an emergency use authorization.

Austin’s memo states that the shots will become mid-September “or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensure, whichever comes first.”

Austin’s plan provides time for the FDA to give final approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected early next month. Without that formal approval, Austin would need a waiver from Biden to make the shots mandatory. Biden has made it clear he supports that.

In an Aug. 9 statement, President Joe Biden said he strongly support’s “Austin’s message to the Force today on the Department of Defense’s plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September.”

Biden said the country is still on a wartime footing and “being vaccinated will enable our service members to stay healthy, to better protect their families, and to ensure that our force is ready to operate anywhere in the world.”

The delay gives the services time determine how many vaccines are required, and come up with a plan to implement the mandate.

In the meantime, as infection rates of the Delta variant continue to rise, the Pentagon is monitoring the situation. DOD recently reinstated indoor mask mandates.

“We will comply with the President’s direction regarding additional restrictions and requirements for unvaccinated Federal personnel,” said Austin. “Those requirements apply to those of you in uniform as well as our civilian and contractor personnel. We will also be keeping a close eye on infection rates — which are on the rise now due to the Delta variant — and the impact these rates might have on our readiness. I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if I feel the need to do so.”

The Pentagon says that more than 1 million troops are fully vaccinated, and another 237,000 have received one shot. But the individual services vary in the percentages of troops vaccinated.

The Navy said that more than 74 percent of all active duty and reserve sailors have been vaccinated with at least one shot. The Air Force, meanwhile, said that more than 65 percent of its active duty and 60 percent reserve forces are at least partially vaccinated, and the number for the Army — by far the largest service — appears to be closer to 50 percent.

In his memo, Austin encouraged all service members to get vaccinated.

“To defend this nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” he said. “I strongly encourage all DOD military and civilian personnel — as well as contractor personnel — to get vaccinated now and for military service members to not wait for the mandate.

“All FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective,” he continued. “They will protect you and your family. They will protect your unit, your ship and your co-workers. And they will ensure we remain the most lethal and ready force in the world.

“Get the shot. Stay healthy. Stay Ready,” he concluded.

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