Mandatory Vaccination of U.S. Troops to Begin Immediately, Austin Says

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U.S.|Mandatory vaccination of the U.S. military will begin ‘immediately,’ the defense secretary says.

U.S. Army soldiers assigned to Ft. Bragg Army Post, N.C., wait to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Credit...Kenny Holston for The New York Times

Daniel E. Slotnik

  • Aug. 25, 2021, 1:32 p.m. ET

Mandatory vaccination against the coronavirus for active-duty U.S. service members who have not already gotten shots will begin now, though no hard deadline has been set to complete it, the secretary of defense said in a memo.

Lloyd J. Austin III, the secretary, directed “the secretaries of the military departments to immediately begin full vaccination of all members of the armed forces under D.o.D. authority on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, who are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19.”

The memo, dated Tuesday, said that only vaccines that have been federally approved will be used. It said the leaders of each branch of the military should “impose ambitious timelines for implementation” and report back regularly on progress, using established systems for mandatory vaccine reporting.

John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said at a news conference on Wednesday that 68 percent of active-duty troops were already fully vaccinated, including the National Guard and Reserves. He said the Navy was the most-vaccinated branch, with 73 percent of sailors fully inoculated, while the Army was the least, with just 40 percent of soldiers fully vaccinated.

“The secretary has made clear his expectation to the military departments that he wants them to move with some alacrity here, and get the force fully vaccinated as fast as possible,” Mr. Kirby said.

Federal approval for Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for people 16 and older on Monday allowed the military to begin requiring Covid vaccinations. The other two vaccines now in use in the United States — made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — only have emergency use authorizations from the Food and Drug Administration.

“Mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all Service members, and mission critical inoculation is almost as old as the U.S. military itself,” Mr. Austin said. “Our administration of safe, effective Covid-19 vaccines has produced admirable results to date, and I know the Department of Defense will come together to finish the job, with urgency, professionalism and compassion.”

Over the months when vaccination was voluntary for the 1.4 million active-duty members of the military, a current of resistance developed among younger members.

Now that it will be mandatory, Mr. Kirby said, service members who refuse vaccination and lack a valid medical or religious exemption will be offered a chance to discuss the vaccine with a physician and with their commander, which would ideally address the service member’s concerns, before facing discipline.

“It’s a lawful order, and it’s our expectation that troops will obey lawful orders,” Mr. Kirby said. “And we also expect that commanders will have plenty of other tools available to them to get their vaccination rates up, and to get these individuals to make the right decision, short of having to use disciplinary action.”

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