WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a memo issued Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed the U.S. military branches to immediately begin fully vaccinating all members of the armed forces. He said secretaries of the military departments “should impose ambitious timelines for implementation.”
The memo, obtained by The Associated Press and CBS News, says the mandatory vaccinations against COVID-19 will only use shots that receive full licensure from the Food and Drug Administration.
That means the military members who have not yet been vaccinated will receive Pfizer shots because they’re the only vaccines that have received full approval from the FDA so far. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still awaiting full approval, but they’re available in the U.S. under emergency use authorization.
Austin said in the memo that service members who have received Moderna or J&J vaccines will still be considered fully vaccinated. But those who have previously been infected with the coronavirus are not considered fully inoculated.
Austin said mandatory vaccinations are necessary to protect the force and defend the American people.
“Mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all of our service members, and mission-critical inoculation is almost as old as the U.S. military itself,” wrote Austin. “Our administration of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines has produced admirable results to date, and I know the Department of Defense will come together to finish the job, with urgency, professionalism, and compassion.”
In a Wednesday briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby addressed the options for service members who may still object to getting vaccinated.
"For a member who still objects, obviously you can ask for an exemption on religious grounds. You certainly can be exempt if you have a pre-existing condition that your doctor advises you not to get it, obviously,” said Kirby. “But if it's an objection outside those two frameworks, the individual will be offered a chance to sit down with a physician and have that physician communicate to them the risks that they're taking by continuing to not want to take the vaccine. They will also be offered a chance to sit down with their chain of command and their leadership to talk about the risks that their objection will impose on the unit and on the force and on their teammates."
More than 800,000 service members have yet to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Pentagon data obtained by the AP.
Austin said earlier this month that he’d require service members to be vaccinated either when a vaccine received full FDA approval or if President Joe Biden signed a waiver directing it.