Effective immediately, the Pentagon is requiring all of its service members to received the COVID-19 vaccine.
This decision was just announced in a memo from Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense, which represents a significant advancement from an earlier plan. The previous plan had called for individuals to become vaccinated by September 15; however, the plan had also included a provision that indicated the deadline could be moved earlier if any of the vaccines were to receive FDA approval.
Earlier this week, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received full approval.
Austin informed the servicemen and servicewomen impacted by the announcement that it is necessary to have “a healthy and ready force” in order “to defend this nation” effectively. Austin also added that he has “determined that mandatory vaccination against … COVID … is necessary to protect the Force,” as well as to defend the lives of American people.
Austin reached his decision after “careful consultation” with military leadership and medical experts, as well as “with the support of [Biden].”
As a result, Austin has directed the secretaries of numerous military departments to have all the members of the Armed forces placed on active duty, as well as in the ready reserves, vaccinated. In addition, the National Guard must also be vaccinated if they have yet to receive their shots.
While all the vaccines that have received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA are acceptable, the Pentagon will only issue mandated vaccines that have received full FDA approval. Thus far, the Pfizer vaccine has been the only one to receive this approval.
In addition, the memo from Austin also encouraged more “ambitious timelines” for completing the vaccination process.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, also indicated that various exceptions will be made for service members who have qualified religious exemptions that would preclude their ability to receive the vaccine. Alternately, service members who have health conditions that would render the vaccine inadvisable may also be excused, pending doctor advice.
However, outside of these two exceptions, Kirby argues that anyone else who refuses the vaccine will have to speak with a physician, as well as their commanding officer, in order to assess risks. However, Kirby declined to comment as to whether or not these servicemen or servicewomen would face discipline within the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“It’s a lawful order,” Kirby proclaimed, and he also “fully [anticipates] that [American troops] are going to follow lawful orders.”
“When you raise your right hand and you take that oath, thats what you agree to do,” Kirby continued.
Under the tenets of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, anyone who does not obey a lawful order will face full punishment “as a court-martial may direct,” although Kirby has also indicated that various commanders may utilize several “other tools” that are designed to convince service members, which fall short “of having to use disciplinary action.”
Approximately 68 percent of the military is fully vaccinated, while 76 percent have received at least one dose, according to Kirby.
However, some branches of the military have witnessed more vaccinations than others. For instance, in the Navy, approximately 73 percent of servicemen and servicewomen are vaccinated, whereas only 40 percent of the Army is fully vaccinated. In addition, the Marine Corps has a 53 percent vaccination rate, whereas the Air Force stands at a 57 percent vaccination rate.
Joe Biden has widely endorsed vaccine mandates for the military in statements issued earlier in the month, after Austin made his initial announcement on COVID vaccines.
“I strongly support [Austin’s] message to the Force today on the [DoD’s] plan to include the COVID vaccine [along with other] required vaccines for our service members not later than mid-September,” Biden brayed.
Biden also added that he and Austin “share an unshakeable commitment” to ensuring that troops have all the necessary tools in order to “do their jobs as safely as possible.”