Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has issued a memo calling for the mandatory vaccination of U.S. troops who have not already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Austin instructed "the Secretaries of the Military Departments to immediately begin full vaccination of all members of the Armed Forces under DoD authority on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19."
The memo noted: "Service members are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after receiving a single dose of a one-dose vaccine. Those with previous COVID-19 infection are not considered fully vaccinated."
Late last month President Biden said that he was asking the Defense Department to consider how and when it would add COVID-19 vaccination to the list of vaccinations those serving in the military are required to receive.
Austin said in a memo earlier this month that he would seek President Biden's "approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensure, whichever comes first."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Monday that is had approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in individuals 16 and older. It became the first vaccine to secure full approval from the agency.
"The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals," the FDA noted.
While the military vaccine mandate will only utilize vaccines that obtain full licensure from the FDA, military members who voluntarily receive other vaccines can still meet the full vaccination requirement.
"Mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 will only use COVID-19 vaccines that receive full licensure from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in accordance with FDA-approved labeling and guidance. Service members voluntarily immunized with a COVID-19 vaccine under FDA Emergency Use Authorization or World Health Organization Emergency Use Listing in accordance with applicable dose requirements prior to, or after, the establishment of this policy are considered fully vaccinated," according to the memo regarding the mandate.
Individuals taking part in COVID-19 clinical trials are exempt from the military vaccine mandate until the trial is finished.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a press briefing Wednesday that service members can request an exemption for religious reasons and can be exempt due to a preexisting condition when a physician advises against vaccination.
"But if it's an objection outside those two frameworks, the individual will be offered a chance to sit down with a physician and have that physician communicate to them the risks that they're taking by continuing to not want to take the vaccine," Kirby said. He said that objectors will also have the opportunity to speak with leadership regarding the risks their objection places upon their teammates and the force.
Kirby said "commanders have a wide range of tools available to them to help their teammates make the right decision for themselves, for their families, and for their units. And we expect ... that the commanders will use those tools short of having to use the UCMJ."
Kirby said that "it's a lawful order" and they anticipate that service members will comply with lawful orders.
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