According to Pentagon data, more than 800,000 military personnel have not yet received their shots. The Defense Department has added the Pfizer vaccine to its list of mandatory shots for troops, now that it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Austin memo does not dictate a specific timeline for completing the vaccinations. However, it states that the military services must report on their progress regularly. According to a senior defense official, Austin has told the services that he expects them move quickly and that it will take weeks to complete.
Austin stated in the memo that "To defend this nation, we need to have a healthy force ready for action." "After careful consultations with military leaders and medical experts, and with the support from the President, I have decided that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus diseases...is necessary in order to protect the Force and defend America's people."
Troops will have the ability to receive their Pfizer shots from their bases or commandments around the globe. According to the Pentagon, there is enough vaccine supply to satisfy demand. Service members can also get the COVID vaccines by themselves.
National Guard troops scattered across the country may have difficulty fulfilling the mandate for vaccines. They only gather once per month to practice their required drills.
The Pentagon estimates that there are over 1.3 million active duty troops and nearly 800,000. Guard and Reserve troops. As of Aug. 18, over 1 million Guard and Reserve personnel were fully vaccinated and almost 245,000 had received at least one dose.
Senior military leaders have repeatedly pressed their troops to get vaccines via a variety of public pleas and social media campaigns. Many service members, as with the U.S. populace, have been reluctant to get vaccines.
According to defense officials, it is crucial that troops get the vaccine as they live and work together and could be affected by an outbreak.
According to military officials, they do not have any numbers about Guard troops that are still unvaccinated. The Pentagon provides only a total troop number, which includes active duty, Guard, and Reserve.
Officials from the Guard have stated that it has been difficult to determine how many soldiers have received a vaccine. Only now can they begin to track the number more accurately as Guard members report to drill weekends in fall.
The number of military personnel being hospitalized and dying is on the rise. The number of military personnel who have died in the last month has risen from 25 to 34, a jump that is more than a third.
Austin memo stated that "vaccination of the Force will save lifes." "Thanks for focusing on this crucial mission."
Depending on their deployment, members of the U.S. Military are required to receive up to 17 vaccines. These requirements include shots for smallpox and hepatitis as well as flu shots. There are also temporary and permanent exemptions that can be granted for administrative or medical reasons.
Austin noted in the memo that the new requirement would allow exemptions that will be consistent with current policies for all other vaccines. A permanent exemption includes serious medical reactions, immune deficiencies, such as HIV infection, and "evidence that existing immunity" through a serologic antibody test.
Administrative exemptions are also available, including one for religious purposes. Based on their policies, the military services grant religious exemptions. It seems to be very rare. Commanders make this decision after consulting with chaplains and medical personnel.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby briefed the media on Wednesday and stated that commanders should execute the order for vaccines with "skill, and a measure compassion". Service members who object to the order will be able to meet with medical personnel as well as their leaders to make sure they understand the risks to their troops and their fellow soldiers if they refuse to take the vaccine.
Kirby answered a question about punishments for noncompliance and said that commanders have a wide range of tools to choose from. He said, "It's lawful and we fully anticipate our troops will follow lawful orders."
Both the Navy and Marine Corps claimed that they have received no religious exemption requests for vaccines in the recent past, while the Air Force stated that there were very few. The Army could not provide any data.
Just over half of Americans are fully vaccinated using one of three options: Moderna, Pfizer, or Johnson & Johnson.
Only the Pfizer vaccine is affected by the Pentagon decision. Moderna also applied to FDA for full approval. J&J stated that it plans to do so in the latter part of this year.