WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Monday said it would seek to make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for service members no later than the middle of September.
President Joe Biden, in turn, supported the move.
“I am proud that our military women and men will continue to help lead the charge in the fight against this pandemic, as they so often do, by setting the example of keeping their fellow Americans safe,” the president said in a statement Monday afternoon.
In a message to the force, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he consulted with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretaries and Chiefs of the sister service branches as well as the White House Covid Task Force before arriving at this decision.
“I have every confidence that Service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill, and compassion,” Austin wrote in his memo to all Defense Department employees.
“We will also be keeping a close eye on infection rates, which are on the rise now due to the Delta variant, and the impact these rates might have on our readiness. I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the president if l feel the need to do so,” Austin wrote.
The decision comes as the delta variant of Covid-19 spreads rapidly, driving up hospitalizations and severe sickness among unvaccinated people. There are 1.4 million service members on active duty. Just over a million are fully vaccinated.
The military already requires vaccinations for several other diseases.
The White House welcomed Austin’s decision saying that the vaccines are safe and will help “our service members to stay healthy, to better protect their families, and to ensure that our force is ready to operate anywhere in the world.”
“These vaccines will save lives. Period. They are safe. They are effective,” Biden said.
The Pentagon says that approximately half of the U.S. military is already fully vaccinated, with the Navy posting the highest inoculation rates. The Navy says that about 73% of sailors are fully vaccinated.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, 28 service members have died after complications from Covid, according to Pentagon data.