Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to announce mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for the active-duty military as early as Friday.

This comes just days after President Biden urged all federal employees to get vaccinated. During that speech, the president urged the Pentagon to find a way to make the vaccine mandatory for all military personnel.

“Today I’m asking the Defense Department to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 to the list of vaccinations the Armed Forces must get,” Biden said during a televised press conference.

“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say if ‘I’d just got the vaccine,'” the president added. “This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”

The president also queried the Justice Department about whether the government can mandate to troops a vaccine that has yet to be fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Currently, the three COVID vaccines available in the U.S. have only been approved for emergency use.

Jamal Brown, deputy Pentagon press secretary, said last week in a statement that the Pentagon is developing plans to make it happen.  

“The Department of Defense is moving quickly to meet President Biden’s commitment to defeat COVID-19, and that includes being able to ensure every member of our civilian and military workforce is protected.”

Troops getting the COVID-19 vaccine
Army troops getting the COVID-19 vaccine. (File photo)

“In accordance with the guidance the President issued […], all military and civilian DoD personnel will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Personnel unable or unwilling to do that will be required to wear a mask, physically distance, comply with a regular testing requirement and be subject to official travel restrictions.”

Military Vaccination Rates on Par With General Population

If secretary Austin makes that final recommendation, as expected on Friday, he will probably seek a presidential waiver to allow the vaccine to be administered to troops before its full approval by the FDA. 

Currently, 70 percent of the active-duty military has received at least one shot. Across all DoD personnel, that rate is 64 percent. This is on par with the rates for the civilian population.

The Air Force is the most vaccinated service, with 81 percent of its force having received both doses of the shot. The Navy comes in second with nearly 80 percent vaccinated, the Army is at 71 percent, while the Marines have the worst numbers at 58 percent.

Biden Virginia Theological Seminary
President Biden visits the Virginia Theological Seminary to thank the seminary for the provision of COVID vaccines. (Photo by Elizabeth Panox-Leach/Virginia Theological Seminary)

Last week, the president said federal employees and on-site contractors would be required to get the vaccine or be subject to restrictions and frequent regular testing. The requirement affected the Defense Department’s civilian employees but did not extend to active-duty servicemembers.

With the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus spreading, the military is hoping to get its troops vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent any major outbreak among units that could affect readiness.

Although about 611,000 people in the U.S. have officially died from COVID-19, only 28 troops have died from the virus. Troops tend to be younger and fitter, which translates to a better prognosis. 

While many troops have pushed back against getting a “voluntary” shot, most military analysts believe that there will be little pushback against the vaccine if the FDA approves its use and the military makes it mandatory.