Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will issue a coronavirus vaccine mandate for the military’s 1.3 million active duty personnel in the coming days, according to multiple reports. All three jabs remain approved for emergency use only.
The Pentagon head is expected to announce the new mandate on Friday after making a recommendation to the White House, Fox News reported on Wednesday night, citing officials familiar with the matter who declined to be named.
Another defense official told CNN, meanwhile, that Austin’s “inclination is towards making the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory” for the troops, with the outlet adding that a final decision could come as soon as this week. The New York Times corroborated those reports on Wednesday, also citing officials.
President Joe Biden recently said that he had directed the Defense Department to “look into how and when” it would add the Covid immunizations to the list of vaccines soldiers are required to get, saying that the time that Austin was “open” to the idea. The Department of Justice previously concluded that Biden would have to issue waivers for the three Covid jabs currently in use in the US, as all have been approved only for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
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While coronavirus inoculations have not yet been ordered by the military, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary Jamal Brown said last week that the department would ask all personnel to provide their vaccination status. Those unable or unwilling to take the shot will be “required to wear a mask, physically distance, comply with a regular testing requirement and be subject to official travel restrictions,” Brown said, though added that Austin was already looking into a full-on mandate.
Secretary Austin will begin consulting our medical professionals, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to determine how and when to make recommendations to the President with respect to adding the Covid-19 vaccines to the full list of requirements for military personnel.
The military says around 64% of active duty service members have been fully vaccinated to date, however hesitancy toward the jabs has been stronger in some branches than others, with official data in April showing some 40% of Marines had refused to be vaccinated for a range of reasons.
On the heels of a revised masking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Biden announced last week that all federal employees would have to be vaccinated, or else face regular virus screenings in order to continue working. The move came as an abrupt reversal, as the administration previously urged agencies not to require the jab.
While Biden has also vowed to never issue a universal vaccine mandate for all Americans, concerns were raised that he would make a similar about-face last week after his CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the administration was “looking into” exactly such a policy. She later walked back the comment, however.
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