Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will make coronavirus vaccines mandatory for all members of the military by mid-September, or “immediately” upon Food and Drug Administration approval, whichever comes first, according to a memo he issued August 9.
In a memo to all Department of Defense (DOD) employees, Austin wrote (emphasis added):
As many of you know, President Biden asked me to consider how and when we might add the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines to the list of those required for all Service members. So, over the last week, I have consulted closely with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of the Military Departments, the Service Chiefs, and medical professionals. I appreciate greatly the advice and counsel they provided. Based on these consultations and on additional discussions with leaders of the White House COVID Task Force, I want you to know that I will seek the President’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) licensure, whichever comes first.
Austin wrote that “by way of expectation, public reporting suggests” that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could achieve full FDA licensure “early next month.”
He added, “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 that in the meantime, the DOD would comply with Biden’s restrictions and requirements for unvaccinated federal personnel, requiring them to wear a mask indoors on all federal facilities.
“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.
“To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force. 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,” he said.
“All FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective. They will protect you and your family. They will protect your unit, your ship, and your co-workers. And they will ensure we remain the most lethal and ready force in the world,” he said.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also issued his own memo to the military encouraging members to get vaccinated. It said:
The good health and readiness of our force is critical to America’s defense. We need each and every Soldier, Sailor, Airmen, Marine, and Guardian healthy and capable of performing our duties. COVID-19 is a threat to force protection and readiness. With this in mind, the Secretary of Defense intends to mandate vaccinations for all Service members in the coming weeks. The Joint Force medical professionals recommended this as a necessary step to sustain our readiness and protect our force, our coworkers, our families, and our communities.
Mandating vaccines in the military is not new. Since the first days of basic training and throughout our service, we’ve received multiple vaccines. We have proven processes with trusted and skilled medical professionals. We fight together in the defense of our Nation. We are responsible for each other’s health and safety. Vaccines are the best tools to protect us from COVID-19. If you have taken the vaccine, thank you. If you have not yet taken the vaccine, please do so to protect yourself and those around you. If you have questions about this vaccine, its side effects or implications, consult with your leaders and medical providers.
Milley added the handwritten note: “Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a key force protection and readiness issue.”