Pentagon to Mandate Coronavirus Vaccine as Delta Spreads
(Bloomberg) -- The Defense Department will make vaccinations against Covid-19 mandatory for members of the U.S. military by Sept. 15 as the highly contagious delta variant spreads globally, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Monday.
“I want you to know that I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “whichever comes first,” Austin said in a memo to all department employees. citing the rise in infection rates “and the impact those rates might have on our readiness.”
Austin cited public reports that full FDA approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could come early next month. Vaccines currently have emergency use authorization.
The announcement comes after President Joe Biden required that all federal employees receive a vaccine or submit to weekly testing. Biden said in remarks at the White House on July 29 that he would direct the Defense Department to determine how and when to add Covid-19 shots to those already required by the department.
In a statement Monday, Biden signaled he’ll to approve a request from Austin for mandatory vaccinations. “Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible,” Biden said in a statement. “These vaccines will save lives. Period.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby cited erroneous reports that all military personnel would be vaccinated by Sept. 15, telling reporters that’s the date Austin will ask for approval from Biden unless the FDA acts sooner. He said the deadline will give “an ample amount of time” to the military services to prepare.
The Defense Department has 2.91 million personnel, including about 1.35 million in the active-duty military.
More than 1 million members of the military across all services and 297,565 Defense Department civilians have received two doses of coronavirus vaccines, Pentagon data show. Vaccination rates are in line with those of other Americans.
The department already had required that personnel who weren’t vaccinated or refused to share their vaccination status “wear a mask, physically distance, comply with a regular testing requirement and be subject to official travel restrictions,” according to Pentagon deputy press secretary Jamal Brown.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, backed Austin’s move in his own message to the force on Monday. “Covid-19 is a threat to force protection and readiness,” Milley said. “The Joint Force medical professionals recommended this as a necessary step to sustain our readiness and protect our force, our coworkers, our families and our communities.”
Milley emphasized that requiring shots of fully approved vaccines isn’t new for the Defense Department. Active-duty and selected reserve personnel must receive the seasonal influenza immunization each year, as well as at least a dozen other inoculations against diseases such as measles and tetanus.
“Get the shot. Stay healthy. Stay ready,” Austin said at the close of his message.
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