A memo from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced Monday that all U.S. military service members will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine by September 15.
“I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” final approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “whichever comes first,” Austin wrote in the memo to troops.
If infection rates begin to affect military readiness, Austin added, the date could be changed or moved up.
“I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so,” Austin said. “To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.”
President Joe Biden said he supports Austin’s efforts to mandate vaccines for the military. “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,” he said.
Previously, the Pentagon was strongly encouraging military members to get vaccinated, but not mandating it. One reason for the policy was that the vaccines were still under emergency use authorization by the FDA. Permanent approval for the vaccines may be coming soon, however.
The COVID vaccine will be added to the dozen or so vaccines required for the military to get in order to serve.
More than a million troops have been fully vaccinated and another 237,000 have received at least one shot, so the military vaccination rate is about 70% and is approaching 88% once those with one dose are fully vaccinated, given the total number of 1.4 million active duty military.
What’s the risk?
A total of 28 military members have died from COVID-19, a tiny number that makes sense given that most military members are young and healthy.
Republicans will surely push back on the new mandate, and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) had already introduced legislation to make it illegal to mandate vaccines for the military.
Massie said he had been “contacted by members of our voluntary military who say they will quit if the COVID vaccine is mandated.”
With such a small risk, is it really worth the battle of getting everyone in the military vaccinated? And is it worth having military members quit because they don’t want to be forced to get an experimental vaccine?