The delta variant is providing the Pentagon and the Biden administration with support for commanding all members of the U.S. military to take the vaccine by September 15.
On August 9, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote a note to all employees informing them that he is seeking permission from President Joe Biden to make vaccines mandatory immediately upon FDA approval, but no later than “mid-September” in any case.
Austin also said he would recommend a “different course” if the president told him to do so. The vaccine mandate would apply to all 1.3 million active-duty military members.
Biden had already moved last week to direct Department of Defense officials to create a plan for a military vaccine mandate. The White House has instituted a vaccine requirement for all federal employees, with routine testing and additional masking rules as the only alternative.
The Pentagon has also released information showing that approximately 1 million troops are fully vaccinated, and almost 240,000 have received the first dose. Austin has also said that the military intended to comply with the general rules applicable to all federal employees until a mandate is in place.
Biden promptly backed Austin’s memo, saying he firmly supports adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of compulsory immunizations for service members. The president referred to the shots as tool personnel need to do their jobs “as safely as possible.”
A legislative mandate for the troops would shield the federal government from potential lawsuits over requiring vaccines not fully authorized by the FDA. Many troops have already refused to take the vaccine, and some have left the service early. Some have been disciplined, and others court-martialed and dismissed with other-than-honorable discharges.
If a full mandate is approved, military members can expect a range of additional penalties, including reprimands, confinement, and dismissal.