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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

Updated Dec 3, 2021 - Health

Omicron cases confirmed in 5 U.S. states

A healthcare worker inserts a Covid-19 rapid test into a machine in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Daniel Brenner/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hawaii became on Thursday the fifth state to confirm the newly discovered Omicron variant after New York announced five new cases earlier in the day.

The latest: In Hawaii, the variant was found in an unvaccinated O'ahu resident with moderate symptoms who had previously been infected with COVID-19, per a state health department statement. The variant has also been confirmed in California, Colorado and Minnesota.

Dec 3, 2021 - World

COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming

Recreated from Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron variant. Now data out of South Africa may serve as a warning of what we're facing.

Driving the news: South Africa recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday with 22.4% of tests coming back positive — up from an average of about 300 new cases, with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The country's top public health officials expect that exponential rise to continue as Omicron rapidly becomes the dominant variant.

Dec 2, 2021 - World

Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people

Photo: John MacDougall - Pool/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who are unvaccinated will not be allowed in nonessential shops, cultural and recreational venues, AP reports.

State of play: Merkel, alongside incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said the measures were necessary to avoid overflowing hospitals with coronavirus patients. The country is seeing an increase in daily infections.