The U.S. Army has reportedly told its commands to prepare to administer mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations to its entire force by as early as Sept. 1, in anticipation of full approval for the vaccines by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
On Thursday the Army Times first reported on the potential mandatory vaccines, based on a portion of an order updating the Headquarters for the Department of the Army (HQDA) Executive Order 225-21, COVID-19 Steady-State Operations.
“Commanders will continue COVID-19 vaccination operations and prepare for a directive to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for service members [on or around] 01 September 2021, pending full FDA licensure,” the portion of the updated order states. “Commands will be prepared to provide a backbrief on servicemember vaccination status and way ahead for completion once the vaccine is mandated.”
For the moment, COVID-19 vaccinations remain voluntary.
“As a matter of policy we do not comment on leaked documents. The vaccine continues to be voluntary,” Army spokesperson Maj. Jackie Wren told Army Times. “If we are directed by DoD to change our posture, we are prepared to do so.”
While vaccines have been available to military service members for months, large percentages of troops have declined the vaccinations.
As of the Department of Defense’s latest vaccination numbers, 319,930 Army personnel have been fully vaccinated and another 174,587 Army personnel have been partially vaccinated. Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency said the Army was about 70 percent vaccinated.
The U.S. Navy leads the military branches with a vaccination rate of about 77 percent, Military Times reported. The Army is next with a 70 percent vaccination rate, and the U.S. Air Force next with 61 percent vaccinated. The U.S. Marine Corps is the least vaccinated branch with 58 percent of service members either partially or fully vaccinated.
President Joe Biden has not decided whether he will mandate vaccines for the military once there is FDA approval. In an April interview, Biden said, “I don’t know, I’m going to leave that to the military,” before adding, “I’m not saying I won’t. I think you’re going to see more and more of them getting it. I think it is a tough call as to whether or not they should be required to have to get it in the military.”
While the vaccine remains voluntary, the families of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point have complained of being pressured by the academy to take the vaccine. West Point COVID coordinator Col. Laura Dawson has been accused of threatening unvaccinated cadets, calling them “selfish” and even suggesting that if they don’t get the vaccine they may have to leave the service academy altogether.
Large portions of the U.S. population outside of the military are also not taking the vaccine. Last week the Biden White House conceded it will fall short of its goal of getting at least 70% of the adult population partially vaccinated by July 4. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently estimates about 54.6 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose and about 47 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.