The Pentagon has announced that it will require all members of the United States military to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Sept. 15, according to a memo that was obtained and published by the Associated Press. The deadline could also be pushed up if the vaccine is given full approval by the Food and Drug Administration or the rate of infection continues to go up.
“I 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,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin goes on to say in the memo sent out to the troops, providing them with a warning to be prepared for the upcoming requirement. “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so.”
Austin’s decision comes a bit more than 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. It reflects similar decisions by governments and companies around the world, as nations struggle with the highly contagious delta variant that has sent new U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths surging to heights not see since the peaks last winter.
Austin said in his memo says 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. The additional time, however, also is a nod to the bitter political divisiveness over the vaccine and the knowledge that making it mandatory will likely trigger opposition from vaccine opponents across the state and federal governments, Congress and the American population.
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.
Part of the reason for the requirement is due to the fact that soldiers often live and work very closely together in barracks and on ships, which puts them at an increased risk of transmitting the coronavirus. This ultimately could cause problems with America’s ability to provide a ready defense should a national security crisis arise.
The memo went on to state that during the meantime, the Pentagon will also comply with President Joe Biden’s order for more restrictions to be placed on federal personnel who have not received the vaccine. One of those restrictions is a mask mandate, coupled with mask wearing, social distancing, and limits on travel.
The Pentagon has stated that more than a million troops have been fully vaccinated and another 237,000 have received at least one dose. However, the different branches of military service vary in their rate of vaccination.
The Navy has said that more than 74 percent of all active duty and reserve sailors have had at least one of the shots. However, the Air Force stated that more than 65 percent of its active duty and 60 percent of its reserve forces are partially vaccinated. The Army, which is the largest branch, is closer to 50 percent.