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Pentagon will require COVID-19 vaccine for US military members by Sept. 15 — a refusal could 'constitute failure to obey an order,' a punishable offense

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The Pentagon will require all members of the U.S. military to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine in early September, according to reports.

What are the details?

In the memo, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says, "I will seek the president's approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon [FDA approval] whichever comes first."

"I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the president if I feel the need to do so," Austin added in the memo, which is reportedly set for Monday distribution. "To defend this nation, we need a healthy and ready force."

The memo added, "I strongly encourage all DoD military and civilian personnel — as well as contractor personnel — to get vaccinated now and for military service members to not wait for the mandate."

CNN reports that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley will also "communicate a related message to the troops" following the memo's release.

"The intervening few weeks will be spent preparing for this transition. I have every confidence that Service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill, and compassion. We will have more to say about this as implementation plans are fully developed," Austin wrote in the memo.

What did the president say?

On Monday, President Joe Biden endorsed the idea of a vaccine mandate.

"I strongly support Secretary Austin's message to the Force today on the Department of Defense's plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September," Biden said in a statement. "Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible."

According to the report, "The Navy said that more than 74% of all active duty and reserve sailors have been vaccinated with at least one shot. The Air Force, meanwhile, said that more than 65% of its active duty and 60% reserve forces are at least partially vaccinated, and the number for the Army — by far the largest service — appears to be closer to 50%."

Fox News reports that troops already have to receive as many as 17 different vaccines.

Military officials added that once the vaccine is mandated, a "refusal could constitute failure to obey an order, and may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

Exemptions will be granted under certain conditions, the report added, "for a variety of reasons including health issues or religious beliefs."

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