The Department of Defense will require all active-duty military members to get a COVID-19 vaccine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Aug. 9.
The requirement could be in place in the coming days, Austin said in a memo sent to all Pentagon employees that was obtained by The Epoch Times.
“I want you to know that I will seek the President’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensure, whichever comes first,” Austin said.
While all three COVID-19 vaccines being administered in the United States are under emergency use authorization, officials have suggested that the Pfizer–BioNTech version could become FDA-approved as soon as this month.
Approval requires more evidence of efficacy and safety than emergency clearance does.
Austin will seek a waiver to make the vaccines mandatory since they haven’t yet been approved, unless approval comes soon, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington.
“The intervening few weeks will be spent preparing for this transition. I have every confidence that Service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill, and compassion. We will have more to say about this as implementation plans are fully developed,” Austin said.
He also said officials would be keeping a close watch on the increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the United States.
“I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if I feel the need to do so,” Austin said.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that he supports Austin’s plan.
“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,” he said.
There was no mention in the memo of potential exceptions to the upcoming policy. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to answer when asked about potential exceptions.
Other Pentagon personnel will be encouraged to be vaccinated and face regular testing and stricter rules if they don’t, under Biden’s recent directive, Austin said on Aug. 9.
“To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force. I strongly encourage all DoD military and civilian personnel—as well as contractor personnel—to get vaccinated now and for military Service members to not wait for the mandate,” he said.
The update comes several days after Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) and 15 other members of Congress urged Austin not to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for the troops.
“The law of the United States is clear: Mandatory vaccination is illegal for military personnel prior to complete approval,” they wrote in a letter (pdf).
“As long as the vaccine is authorized under an Emergency Use Authorization, the Department of Defense does not have the authority to implement such an order. Servicemembers who do not wish to receive the vaccine cannot be required until the approval process is completed. Any action to require it is illegal. The Secretary of Defense is not above the law. The courts concurred,” they wrote, citing the National Research Act of 1974 and the court decision in 2004 in Doe v. Rumsfeld.
Green, a doctor, and his colleagues said they believe the vaccines are safe and effective but don’t support a mandate at this time.