Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is swearing he will “not let grass grow under our feet” as the department begins implementing new vaccine and testing directives
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is vowing he will “not let grass grow under our feet” as the department begins implementing new vaccine and testing directives. But Pentagon officials were scrambling for the end of the week to figure out how to implement and enforce the changes to the vast military population and determine which National Guard and Reserve troops would be affected by the orders.
Austin said Friday the department would move fast, but said he couldn’t predict how long it would take. He said he plans to consult with medical professionals as well as military service leaders.
Any plan to make the vaccine mandatory would require a waiver signed by Biden, as the Food and Drug Administration has yet to give the vaccine final, formal approval. According to federal law, the requirement to provide individuals with a choice to accept or decline the use of an emergency use vaccine may be waived by the President, “only if the President determines in writing that such requirement shall be complied with.” It is not in national interest. Security.”
Mandating the vaccine before FDA approval would likely increase opposition from vaccine opponents, and drag the military into a political debate that has become a highly divisive issue in the US.
However, military commanders have struggled to differentiate themselves from those not vaccinated during the early parts of basic training in the services to prevent infection. So, for some, a mandate may make training and accommodation less complicated.
Military service members are already required to receive 17 different vaccines, depending on where they are located around the world. Some vaccines are specific to certain regions. Military officials have said the pace of vaccines is increasing across the force, with some units seeing nearly 100 percent of their members get shots.
According to the Pentagon, more than 1 million service members have been fully vaccinated, and another 233,000 have received at least one shot. There are approximately 2 million active duty, guard and reserve soldiers.
A vaccine mandate would also raise questions about whether military services will discharge soldiers who refuse the vaccine.
National Guard officials said initial guidance suggests that Guard soldiers who initially refuse the vaccine as mandatory would receive counseling from medical personnel. If they still refuse they will be ordered to take it, and failure to comply with that order may result in administrative or punitive action.
On Friday, Guard officials said leaders were still mulling legal recommendations on which civilian soldiers would be affected by the new requirements and who would not. Officials said it appears that most guards will eventually have to be vaccinated if it becomes mandatory.
Guard soldiers on federal active duty will be given the vaccine wherever they are deployed in their units, and others will receive it when they report to their monthly drill weekend or annual training. According to guard officials, this system will be similar to the requirement of any other vaccine.
Guard members posted on state active duty will not be initially subject to the requirement because they are subject to state laws. But once they return to the monthly drill, the order will apply to them. Guard officials spoke on condition of anonymity about the new vaccine process because the procedures are still being finalized.
While the number of COVID-19 deaths in the military has remained low – largely attributed to the age and health of the force – cases of the virus are rising.
As of this week, there have been more than 208,600 cases of COVID-19 among members of the US military. Of these, more than 1,800 are hospitalized and 28 have died.
Earlier this year, the number of cases and hospitalizations was relatively small, rising steadily, and the number of deaths had stalled at 26 for more than two and a half months. The total has increased in recent weeks. The number of cases increased by more than 3,000 in the past week alone, and those admitted to hospital increased by 36. Two Navy sailors also died in the past week.