Aug 9, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Pentagon will require all troops to get COVID vaccine by Sept. 15

A US flag is pictured on a soldier's uniform
Photo: Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images

The Pentagon will require members of the military to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo on Monday.

Why it matters: About 64% of active duty military members are fully vaccinated, a low enough rate to pose concern for potential outbreaks and international deployments, reports the New York Times.

The big picture: Austin noted in the memo that the inoculation deadline could be moved up if the FDA gives final approval to the vaccine or if infection rates continue to rise.

  • Without the approval, Austin needs a waiver from President Biden to mandate the vaccines.
  • “I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” the FDA's approval, Austin wrote in the memo.
  • “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so," he added. "To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force."

Biden said in a statement Monday that he strongly supports Austin's "message to the Force today on the Department of Defense’s plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September."

  • "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. These vaccines will save lives. Period. They are safe. They are effective," he added.
  • "Being vaccinated will enable our service members to stay healthy, to better protect their families, and to ensure that our force is ready to operate anywhere in the world. We cannot let up in the fight against COVID-19, especially with the Delta variant spreading rapidly through unvaccinated populations."

State of play: As COVID-19 case numbers surge across the United States, the government has rolled out several new vaccination mandates, including for federal workers and contractors.

  • Biden hinted last month that military personnel could be next for a vaccine mandate.
  • On Sunday NIAID director Anthony Fauci said that FDA approval of the vaccines could be coming within a matter of weeks.
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