WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will seek to make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for all U.S. military by the middle of September, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced on Monday.
“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 Administration (FDA) licensure, whichever comes first,” Austin said in a memo. “By way of expectation, public reporting suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could achieve full FDA license early next month.”
Austin said he consulted with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, who spoke with the White House Covid Task Force before making the decision.
The memo also states President Joe Biden asked Austin to “consider how and when we might add the coronavirus disease 2019 vaccines to the list of those required for all Service members.”
The Associated Press first reported the news.
Biden released a statement on Monday afternoon, throwing his full support behind plans to make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for all active-duty military members.
“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,” Biden wrote.
“Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible,” Biden continued. “Being vaccinated will enable 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.”
The President, who is still at his Delaware home, was briefed on Friday by Austin and Milley on options for mandating Covid-19 vaccines for the military.
The decision comes amid the Delta variant spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated, resulting in overcrowding hospitals and severe death.
Austin warned infection rates and the Delta surge could have an impact on his decision to ramp up readiness.
“I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so. To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.” Austin said in the memo.
According to the Pentagon, half of the U.S. military is already fully vaccinated and 237,000 have received one shot. 28 service members have died after complications from Covid, according to Pentagon data.
“Obviously we prefer that you get the vaccine now and not wait for the mandate,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.