Pentagon to Require Military to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

August 9, 2021 by Dan McCue
Vaccination. (Photo by Christophe Morel U.S. Army Garrison Benelux)

The Defense Department will require members of the U.S. military to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15, though the deadline could be pushed up if infection rates continue to rise.

The decision was revealed in a memo to troops  initially acquired by the Associated Press.

In the memo, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says he will “seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” licensure by the Food and Drug Administration “whichever comes first.” 

“I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the president if I feel the need to do so,” Austin added.

Austin’s decision comes just over a week after President Joe Biden told defense officials to develop a plan requiring troops to get shots as part of a broader campaign to increase vaccinations in the federal workforce. 

Austin said in the memo that the military services will have the next few weeks to prepare, determine how many vaccines they need, and how this mandate will be implemented. 

It also 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.

The decision will add the COVID-19 vaccine to a list of other inoculations that service members are already required to get. Depending on their location around the world, service members can get as many as 17 different vaccines.

Austin’s memo also said the Pentagon will comply with Biden’s order for additional restrictions on any federal personnel who have not been vaccinated. Those restrictions will include wearing masks, social distancing and travel limits.

According to the Pentagon, more than 1 million troops are fully vaccinated and another 237,000 have received one shot. But the military services vary widely in their vaccination rates.

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