Members of the U.S. military would be required to have the COVID-19 vaccine from September 15, as part of a plan announced by the Pentagon on Monday and approved by President Joe Biden.
This time frame could be extended if the vaccine receives final FDA approval or if infection rates continue to rise.
“I will seek the president’s approval to make vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately after ‘Food and Drug Administration clearance’ whichever comes first,” Defense Secretary Lloyd said. Austin in the note to the troops, warning them to prepare for the requirement.
He added that if infection rates increase and potentially affect military readiness, “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if I feel the need to.” To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.
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Austin’s plan gives the FDA time to give final approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected early next month. Without this formal approval, Austin would need a waiver from Biden to make the shots mandatory. Biden has made it clear that he supports this.
In a statement on Monday, Biden said he strongly supports Austin’s “message to the Force today on the Defense Department’s plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of mandatory vaccinations for our people. military no later than mid-September “.
Biden said the country is still on a war footing and “being vaccinated will allow our military to stay healthy, better protect their families and ensure our force is ready to operate anywhere in the world. “.
Austin’s note to the police was released on Monday.
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His move comes just over a week after Biden asked defense officials to come up with a plan requiring troops to get vaccinated as part of a larger campaign to increase vaccinations in the workforce. federal work. It reflects similar decisions made by governments and businesses around the world, as nations battle the highly contagious delta variant that has sent new cases to the United States, with hospitalizations and deaths reaching record highs since the United States. peaks from last winter.
Austin said in his memo that the military will have the next few weeks to prepare, determine how many vaccines they need and how that mandate will be implemented. The extra time, however, is also a nod to the bitter political division over the vaccine and the knowledge that making it mandatory will likely spark opposition from opponents of the vaccine across state and federal governments, Congress and the American population.
Troops often live and work closely together in barracks and on ships, increasing the risk of rapid spread. And any major virus outbreak in the military could affect America’s ability to defend itself in the event of a national security crisis.
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The decision will add the COVID-19 vaccine to a list of other vaccines that the military are already required to receive. Depending on their location in the world, military personnel may receive up to 17 different vaccines.
Austin’s memo also said that in the meantime, the Pentagon would comply with Biden’s order of further restrictions on any federal personnel who had not been vaccinated. These restrictions will include wearing masks, social distancing and travel limits.
According to the Pentagon, more than one million soldiers are fully immunized and 237,000 others have received an injection. But military services vary widely in their vaccination rates.
The Navy said more than 74% of all sailors on active and reserve duty have been vaccinated with at least one injection. The Air Force, meanwhile, said more than 65% of its active duty and 60% of its reserve forces are at least partially vaccinated, and the number for the military _ by far the largest service _ appears be closer to 50%.
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Military officials said the pace of vaccines has increased across the force, with some units – such as sailors deployed on a warship – seeing nearly 100 percent of their members being vaccinated. But the totals drop dramatically, including among the National Guard and the Reserve, which are much more difficult to track.
Some unvaccinated servicemen have suggested they get vaccinated when needed, but others are adamantly opposed. Military officials have said that once the vaccine is mandatory, a refusal could constitute a breach of an order and could be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Army advice, for example, includes advice for soldiers to ensure they understand the purpose of the vaccine and the threat the disease poses. The military also notes that if a soldier “does not comply with a legal order to receive a mandatory vaccine and does not have an approved exemption, a commander can take appropriate disciplinary action.”
Military service officials said they were not collecting data on the number of soldiers who refused other mandatory vaccines, such as anthrax, hepatitis, chickenpox or flu shots during the last decade or more. And they were unable to provide details of the penalties imposed on service members as a result of the denial.
Officials said they believed the number of soldiers refusing other mandatory vaccines was low. And the discipline could vary.
In addition, members of the military may request an exemption from any vaccine – temporary or permanent – for a variety of reasons, including health concerns or religious beliefs. Regulations for other mandatory vaccines state, for example, that anyone who has had a serious adverse reaction to the vaccine may be exempt, and those who are pregnant or have other conditions may postpone an injection.
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Some have argued that those who have already had the virus _ and have antibodies _ are immune and therefore should not have to be vaccinated. It is not clear how the military will act on these types of claims.
Defense officials say some senior military officials have expressed support for making the vaccine mandatory, believing it would help keep the force healthy. Military commanders also struggled to separate vaccinated and unvaccinated recruits during the early parts of basic training across all departments to prevent infections. So, for some, a warrant could make training and housing less complicated.
Navy officials said last week that there had been only one case of COVID-19 hospitalization among Sailors and Marines who were fully vaccinated. By comparison, the Navy said there had been more than 123 hospitalizations “in a similarly sized group of unvaccinated Sailors and Marines.” He said less than three percent of his immune troops have tested positive for COVID-19.
The other military services did not provide similar data.
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