The Pentagon announced today that members of the U.S. military will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting Sept. 15. President Joe Biden has endorsed the Pentagon’s plan.
In a memo sent out to military personnel, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said 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], which ever comes first.”
Austin noted that if cases continue to surge that he “will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if I feel the need to do so. To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.”
The FDA is still in the process of giving the vaccine final approval, and Austin is hoping to dovetail this with the start of his mandate. If the approval does not come in time, a waiver from Biden will be necessary to make the shots mandatory. Biden has expressed that he would do this if the situation arises.
The plan seeks to include the COVID-19 vaccine with a group of other inoculations already mandatory for those enlisted in the military. The close conditions under which service members spend their time while working together create an environment particularly prone to spreading the virus. If the infection rate were to surge within the military, the United States’ ability to respond to urgent national or international crises may be dramatically impaired.
The Pentagon has shared that over 1 million service members are already fully vaccinated and that 237,000 have gotten their first dose. The six branches of the military differ significantly in their vaccination rates.
Over 74% of active duty and reserve sailors in the Navy have had their first dose of the vaccine. The Air Force trails this number, with just over 65% of its active duty and 60% of its reserve forces receiving their first shot. The Army, which is the U.S.’ largest military branch, is approaching just 50% partial vaccination.
The Pentagon working with Biden to vaccinate as many as possible
Austin’s announcement follows Biden’s request that defense officials create a vaccine mandate for military personnel. This request is part of Biden’s larger effort to vaccinate the federal workforce, and is concurrent with a wave of near identical mandates and requirements around the world.
The Department of Veteran Affairs became the first federal agency to require its employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine. A shift towards mandating vaccination for federal workers has arrived in response to a complex new threshold of the pandemic: as more than half the US population has received both doses of the vaccine, a significantly more contagious variant of the virus, known as the delta variant, is making cases spike across the country –and the world.
“With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States and nearly 4 billion doses administered worldwide, we know the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19,” said Dr. Susan Bailey, immediate past president of the American Medical Association. “Increased vaccinations among health care personnel will not only reduce the spread of COVID-19 but also reduce the harmful toll this virus is taking within the health care workforce and those we are striving to serve.”