Pentagon Considers Requirement of Vaccines for Military Employment
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is consulting with health officials and the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the possibility of making COVID-19 vaccinations a requirement of military service.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Thursday he is trying to “determine how and when to make recommendations to the president with respect to adding the COVID-19 vaccines to the full list of requirements for military personnel.”
The question that still must be resolved is whether privacy rights would supersede any military vaccination requirement. So far, federal courts are generally siding with employers who require them after workers who don’t want to get the vaccinations filed lawsuits.
The Pentagon statement called the COVID-19 pandemic a national security threat.
Under its authorization to protect national security, Defense Department officials are invoking a right to include vaccinations among “the full list of requirements for military personnel.”
Technically, the vaccines still are experimental. The Food and Drug Administration allows them to be administered under an Emergency Use Authorization while the agency considers full approval.
Pentagon officials described their potential vaccination requirement as another step toward President Joe Biden’s goal of vaccinating all Americans.
This week, he said vaccinations will be required for all federal employees and contractors. He also suggests paying $100 to anyone else to receive their first vaccinations.
“As more people get vaccinated, we are more protected as a nation to continue reopening safely,” Biden said as he announced his vaccination requirement for federal workers.
The Pentagon statement said the military is trying to “meet President Biden’s commitment to defeat COVID-19, and that includes being able to ensure every member of our civilian and military workforce is protected.”
More than 56% of the U.S. population at least 12 years old has been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. military reports that about 70% of its personnel are vaccinated.
Under the Pentagon’s proposed guideline, their personnel who decline vaccinations would be required to “wear masks, physically distance, comply with a regular testing requirement and be subject to official travel restrictions.”
However, the Pentagon’s plan is running into resistance from a small number of its own staff and members of Congress.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeted this month, “I’ve been contacted by members of our voluntary military who say they will quit if the COVID vaccine is mandated.”
He introduced a bill, H.R. 3860, that would prohibit mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for members of the Armed Forces. He claims to have at least 23 co-sponsors among fellow Republicans.
One Army veteran tweeted in response to Massie’s bill, “I have been vaccinated against diseases that have probably never been seen before in the US. It was *required* that I receive them. This politicking with COVID is not only stupid, it is dangerous to our national security.”
Nevertheless, the Army Times reports the Defense Department is planning to administer mandatory vaccinations as early as September.
Meanwhile, a new CDC report this week warns the COVID-19 delta variant is more contagious than many believed initially. The agency compared COVID-19 to chickenpox, which can be transmitted easily among unvaccinated children.
Even vaccinated persons showing no COVID-19 symptoms could carry the virus and transmit it, according to the CDC.
The new report led the CDC to reverse its own policy by saying even vaccinated persons should wear masks indoors.