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Austin Seeks Presidential Approval for Mandatory Troop Vaccinations by Mid-September

Image of Sailors receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Navy recruits receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Pacific Fleet drill hall at Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois. The COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for service members by mid-September, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said in a message to the force released yesterday. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Spencer Fling)

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President Joe Biden asked Austin to consider how and when the COVID-19 vaccine could be added to the list of required vaccines for all service members when the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus began to cause a spike in cases July 29. Austin, who was in Vietnam when the president made his speech on the subject, promised to "not let grass grow" as he made his decision.

"Our men and women in uniform who protect this country from grave threats should be protected as much as possible from getting COVID-19," Biden said during his July 29 speech.

Austin consulted with Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the service secretaries and the rest of the Joint Chiefs in making his decision.

"Based on these consultations and on additional discussions with leaders of the White House COVID-19 Task Force, 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 licensure, whichever comes first," the secretary said in his memo.

News reports say full FDA licensure for the Pfizer vaccine is expected shortly.

Right now, 73% of active duty personnel have at least one dose of the vaccine, DOD officials said.

All DOD leaders will be involved in expanding the program. "I have every confidence that service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill and compassion," Austin wrote in the memo. "We will have more to say about this as implementation plans are fully developed."

Austin also said the department will comply with the president's direction regarding additional restrictions and requirements for unvaccinated federal personnel. These requirements cover military and civilian personnel.

The Delta variant is hitting hardest in states with large unvaccinated populations, White House officials said. In his July statement, Biden said the only way out of the pandemic is through vaccines. He called it "a life and death" decision.

The DOD will keep a close eye on infection rates "and the impact these rates might have on our readiness," Austin said. "I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the president if I feel the need to do so."

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This Practice Management Guide does not supersede DOD Policy. It is based upon the best information available at the time of publication. It is designed to provide information and assist decision making. It is not intended to define a standard of care and should not be construed as one. Neither should it be interpreted as prescribing an exclusive course of management. It was developed by experts in this field. Variations in practice will inevitably and appropriately occur when clinicians take into account the needs of individual patients, available resources, and limitations unique to an institution or type of practice. Every healthcare professional making use of this guideline is responsible for evaluating the appropriateness of applying it in the setting of any particular clinical situation. The Practice Management Guide is not intended to represent TRICARE policy. Further, inclusion of recommendations for specific testing and/or therapeutic interventions within this guide does not guarantee coverage of civilian sector care. Additional information on current TRICARE benefits may be found at www.tricare.mil or by contacting your regional TRICARE Managed Care Support Contractor.

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Last Updated: August 10, 2021
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