President Joe Biden’s secretary of defense soon will unveil a plan to force all servicemen and women to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
According to Fox News, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to announce Friday that all 1.3 million active-duty members of the U.S. armed services must be vaccinated.
Civilians working for the Defense Department have been urged to be vaccinated as part of Biden’s push to have federal workers get vaccinated or face a regimen of tests and mask-wearing.
The president indicated in a speech last week that he wanted the military to make the shots mandatory.
Austin initially preferred to wait until the Food and Drug Administration approved the coronavirus vaccines, which are being administered under an emergency authorization granted by the FDA, according to The New York Times.
“He’s [Austin’s] not going to let grass grow under his feet,” Kirby said Tuesday. “The Delta variant has certainly affected us here in the military as it has affected the rest of the country. And when we have more to say about the status of the vaccines, we’ll certainly do that. I don’t think it will be very long.”
Military rules mean that the only way the vaccine can become mandatory for service members while it is not yet approved is for Austin to ask the White House for a waiver from the usual rules to make the vaccine mandatory. Service members already must get an array of up to 17 vaccines depending upon where they serve.
Full FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is expected next month, the Times reported, noting that the approval could pave the way for a wave of vaccine mandates.
According to Army Times, the service had been gearing up to make the vaccine mandatory in September.
It said that it obtained an order indicated planning was focused on a program to begin next month.
“Commanders will continue COVID-19 vaccination operations and prepare for a directive to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for service members [on or around] 01 September 2021, pending full FDA licensure,” the order said. “Commands will be prepared to provide a backbrief on servicemember vaccination status and way ahead for completion once the vaccine is mandated.”
Fox News reported that Austin is expected to make the request Thursday and announce its approval Friday, giving the military vaccination program the go-ahead.
One former Biden adviser said that regardless of what the mandatory vaccine program does for service members, it will boost the administration’s efforts to persuade Americans to be vaccinated.
“When people see that these guys got the vaccine and nothing happened to them, that could be decisive,” said Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who was part of Biden’s transition, according to the Times.
“People admire our military,” he said. “They can serve as a positive example.”
Roughly 64 percent of active-duty service members are fully vaccinated, the Times reported. About 70 percent of American adults have received at least one shot, and about 60 percent are fully vaccinated.
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