Now that the Food and Drug Administration has officially and fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine, all military personnel are under orders to get vaccinated. September 15 was the unofficial deadline to be inoculated, but since the FDA has given its stamp of approval, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a memo that it is time to expedite the process:
“To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force. 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 2019 (COVID-19) is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people.”
The mandate applies to all active-duty personnel in all branches of the military, including ready reserves and the National Guard. About 68% of active-duty forces are fully vaccinated and 76% have had at least one dose, according to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby. The Army has the lowest vaccination numbers at just 40% fully dosed and 57% with at least one shot. The Navy has the highest rate with 73% fully vaxxed and 79% who have had at least one jab. The Air Force is 57% fully vaccinated while the Marine Corps is at 53%. To date, 34 service members have died from COVID and another 1,998 have been hospitalized with complications from the virus.
Currently, it is the policy of the military to make sure soldiers and personnel are vaccinated against a variety of diseases. They are required to get as many as 17 different vaccines depending on where they are stationed, including shots for diphtheria, smallpox, measles, mumps, hepatitis, and the flu. “Mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all of our Service members, and mission-critical inoculation is almost as old as the U.S. military itself,” Austin wrote.
There are only two reasons a person can be excused from receiving the jab: religious or medical. If the request for exemption is rejected, Kirby said those who are denied will have an opportunity to sit with a physician and the chain of command to discuss the risks.
Kirby was asked what would happen to any service member who refuses vaccination. “It’s a lawful order,” he said. “And we fully anticipate that our troops are going to follow lawful orders. When you raise your right hand and you take that oath, that’s what you agree to do.” According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, anyone who does not obey a lawful order “shall be punished as a court-martial may direct,” but Kirby said the commanders would use “plenty of other tools” first to encourage service members.
Pentagon data reveals that out of around 1.4 million service members, more than 800,000 still need to be vaccinated. Dr. Anthony Fauci is clamoring for more Americans to take the jab, and now that the FDA has approved Pfizer, it is likely those balancing on the fence will start getting vaccinated. Fauci warned there are going to be more mandates, and President Joe Biden is encouraging companies and institutions to require them for employees: “If you’re a business leader, a nonprofit leader, state or local leader, who has been waiting for FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that, require it,” Biden said.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.