With the announcement that the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer has been given full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Pentagon’s top spokesperson told reporters on Monday that the Pentagon will soon mandate the vaccine for all servicemembers.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is “prepared to issue updated guidance requiring all service members to be vaccinated,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.
He added that a “timeline for vaccination completion will be provided in the coming days.”
“We’re going to move forward, making that vaccine mandatory. We’re preparing the guidance to the force right now. And the actual completion date of it, in other words, how fast we want to see it get done, we’re working through that guidance right now.”
“These efforts ensure the safety of our servicemembers and promote the readiness of our force, not to mention the health and safety of the communities around the country in which we live,” Kirby said.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had announced that he would follow the president’s then wishes and make the vaccine mandatory by mid-September, even under FDA emergency-use authorization. However, this scenario has now been precluded by the recent development.
The Pentagon’s vaccination timeline will be released in the coming days, Kirby added. Yet, he didn’t say what, if any, actions will be taken with the Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Nevertheless, he did mention that the focus right now is “moving forward to implement a mandatory vaccination regimen for Pfizer.”
“I don’t want to get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made yet,” he added.
The Worst Week of the Pandemic for the Military
The FDA’s decision comes just after the deadliest week of the pandemic for the U.S. military. The Pentagon recorded five deaths among U.S. servicemembers in the past week, including several younger servicemembers between the ages of 27 and 31. The first Marine (SGT Edmar Ismael, 27, of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina) also died from the virus.
Although there have been 222,138 documented cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. military, there have only been 34 deaths thus far.
Servicemembers already are mandated by the DoD to receive at least 17 different vaccines when entering the military or before deployments. Now the military’s 1.3 million servicemembers will add the 18th vaccine to the list.
“The public and the medical community can be confident that although we approved this vaccine expeditiously, it was fully in keeping with our existing high standards for vaccines in the U.S.,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
Once the DoD issues its guidance, troops will have to get the vaccine at their military installation or show proof to their chain of command that they’ve received the COVID vaccine outside of the normal military channels.
However, some troops can request an exemption based on their religious beliefs. The ruling authority on those requests will be determined by the individual military service branches, as they each have their own policies on religious exemptions.
“We take freedom of religion and worship seriously, in the military. It’s one of the things that we sign up to defend,” Kirby said. “And so it’s something that’s done very carefully.”