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A U.S. Air Force sergeant receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Osan Air Base in Dec. 2020 in South Korea. Photo: United States Forces Korea via Getty Images

The Pentagon on Wednesday ordered military troops to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, according to a memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin obtained by AP.

Why it matters: Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday that "on the active duty force, 68% is fully vaccinated, and we estimate just over 76% have at least one dose."

Here are figures Kirby provided, by branch:

  • Army: 40% fully vaccinated with 57% with one dose.
  • Marine Corps: 53% fully vaccinated, 60% with one dose. 
  • Navy: 73% fully vaccinated, 79% with at least one dose. 
  • Air Force, which includes Space Force: 57% fully vaccinated, 64% with one dose.

State of play: Although he didn't set an official deadline for vaccinations in the memo, Austin encouraged service leaders to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation," per AP.

  • Military services will be expected to report regularly on the progress of their vaccination efforts. Service members will be able to receive their vaccines at their bases or commands abroad.
  • The military has reported 34 deaths, according to data from the Department of Defense.

What he's saying: “To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Austin wrote, per AP.

  • "After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the President, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease ... is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people.”

The big picture: The Pentagon said earlier this month that it would plan to mandate COVID-19 vaccines by Sept. 15 or as soon as the FDA granted full approval.

  • Wednesday's memo from Austin comes after the FDA's full approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday.

Editors' note: This post has been updated with new numbers provided by the Pentagon.

Go deeper

13 hours ago - Health

D.C. school employees required to get vaccinated

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images

All D.C. school and daycare employees — public, private, and charter — must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 with no option to test out, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced today.

  • Student athletes over the age of 12 will also be required to get vaccinated in order to participate in after-school programs, the mandate says. 
24 hours ago - World

Biden to push vaccine-sharing at UN, but boosters at home

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

President Biden will convene world leaders on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to push them to do more to end the pandemic — though he's also facing criticism for prioritizing boosters at home.

Why it matters: There is still no functional plan in place to vaccinate the world, and past summits of this sort have flopped. The White House hopes that this virtual gathering will produce ambitious promises, accountability measures to track progress, and ultimately help achieve a 70% global vaccination rate this time next year.

23 hours ago - Health

U.S. COVID death toll surpasses 1918 flu fatalities

White flags are seen on the National Mall on Sept. 18, honoring Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 epidemic. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

The recorded number COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has now surpassed the known number of fatalities from the 1918 flu pandemic.

The big picture: The U.S. has now marked more than 676,000 deaths from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the 1918 pandemic killed about about 675,000 people.