President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all military personnel by September 15, official announcements revealed Monday.
“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 Agency (FDA licensure), whichever comes first,” Austin said in a military-wide memo released Monday.
“Reporting suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could achieve full FDA licensure early next month,” Austin added. “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if I feel the need to do so.”
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.
Shortly after Austin’s memo, Biden released a statement expressing support for the message.
“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. These vaccines will save lives. Period. They are safe. They are effective. Over 350 million shots have been given in the United States alone,” Biden said.
“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. We cannot let up in the fight against COVID-19, especially with the Delta variant spreading rapidly through unvaccinated populations. We are still on a wartime footing, and every American who is eligible should take immediate steps to get vaccinated right away,” Biden added.
Biden had announced on July 29 that he was directing the Department of Defense to mandate the vaccine for all military personnel. Austin was expected to make the mandatory vaccine announcement on August 6.
Late last month, Austin told reporters while visiting the Philippines, “We won’t let grass grow under our feet,” adding, “The President directed us to do something and we’ll get after it.”
Last week, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby reiterated that message, telling reporters that Austin would not “let grass grow under his feet,” and teasing that the department had “more to say in very short order here.”
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.