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Biden mandates ‘effective immediately’ COVID vaccine for all US military personnel

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
August 25, 2021

President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are mandating U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) approved Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for all military personnel “immediately,” an official memo first revealed Wednesday.

“I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people,” a Pentagon memo dated August 24 said. “I therefore direct the Secretaries of the Military Departments to immediately begin full vaccination of all members of the Armed Forces under DoD authority on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”

However, a timeline was not provided for the mandatory vaccines to be administered.

The mandate affects the U.S. military’s 1.3 million service members. National Guard members would not be affected by the mandate unless activated by federal orders. Civilian contractors working for the Department of Defense are affected by mask and vaccine mandates for federal employees – the latter of which was implemented by Biden late last month.

Austin also encouraged all military personnel to get the vaccine on their own ahead of the mandate.

Austin had said on August 9 that the mandate would be sped up upon FDA authorization, which was announced Monday. “Reporting suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could achieve full FDA licensure early next month. I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if I feel the need to do so,” Austin said.

After that approval came, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, “We’re going to move forward making that vaccine mandatory.”

The first COVID-19 vaccine to receive FDA approval was the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. said in a statement.

The U.S. military already mandates a number of vaccines for American troops, including shots against the flu, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, and tetanus-diphtheria, according to the U.S. Army basic website.

In April, Biden had said he hadn’t ruled out requiring vaccines for service members, but said the decision was a “tough call” that he would “leave that to the military.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters last month that mandating the vaccine was under consideration at the department.

“If these vaccines are approved by the FDA, then the secretary will certainly talk to the services and health care professionals here at the department to determine what the best options are going forward, which could include making them mandatory,” Kirby said on July 8.

Also in July, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to mandate vaccines for its 115,000 medical personnel.