Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to recommend to President Joe Biden that the COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory for the 1.3 million active-duty members of the U.S. military, according to The New York Times.
Austin, who had previously said he was not comfortable with a mandate for a vaccine until the vaccine was approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has asked the military services to report on how and when they would go about putting a mandate in place.
Should Austin recommend that the vaccine become mandatory, he may ask Biden for a waiver to allow it to be administered to troops before full approval by the FDA.
Pfizer’s vaccine is expected to be approved by the FDA by next month, some sources say.
Austin’s decision would come after an announcement Biden made on July 29 asking the Defense Department to “look into how and when” it will add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of mandatory military vaccinations.
“He’s not going to let grass grow under his feet,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a news conference on Tuesday. “We’ll have more to say in very short order here.”
A Justice Department memo addressed the need for a presidential waiver to sidestep the potential confusion for service members if they are told they have an option to refuse the vaccine.
“Because DOD has informed us that it understandably does not want to convey inaccurate or confusing information to service members—that is, telling them that they have the ‘option’ to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine if they effectively lack such an option because of a military order—DOD should seek a presidential waiver before it imposes a vaccination requirement,” the memo dated July 6 read.
According to the DOD, at the beginning of July, about half the U.S. armed forces have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Sixty percent of active-duty troops have gotten at least one dose, the DOD says.
Vaccination rates are highest in the Navy, with 73% of sailors fully vaccinated. The Marines had the lowest level of vaccinations with 58%.
Members of the armed forces are required to have up to 17 vaccines, depending on age.
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