The Pentagon will require all members of the U.S. military to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 15, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press. The deadline could be advanced if the vaccine receives formal approval from the US health agency, or if infection rates continue to rise.
“I will seek the president’s approval for vaccines to be mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is licensed, whichever comes first,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the memorandum to the troops, asking them to prepare for the requirement. “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the president if I feel the need to.”
The memo is expected to be released on Monday.
Just over a week ago, President Joe Biden directed the military to prepare a plan requiring troops to receive the vaccine as part of the campaign to spread inoculation to the federal workforce. This reflects similar decisions by governments and companies around the world, as nations grapple with the delta variant that is most contagious and has led to new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States at levels not seen since last winter’s peaks.
Austin says in his memo that the military will have the next few weeks to prepare, determine how many vaccines they need, and how this mandate will be implemented.
It also allows time for the FDA to give final approval to Pfizer’s vaccine, which is expected early next month.
Troops often live and work closely in barracks and ships, increasing the risk of rapid spread. And any major coronavirus outbreak within the military could affect the United States’ ability to defend itself in any national security crisis.
The Austin memo also says that in the meantime, the Pentagon will comply with Biden’s order to impose additional restrictions on any federal personnel who have not been vaccinated. Those restrictions will include wearing face masks, social distancing and limiting travel.
According to the Pentagon, more than 1 million soldiers are fully vaccinated and another 237,000 have received an injection.