Skip to main content

Military Health System

Important Notice about Pharmacy Operations

Change Healthcare Cyberattack Impact on MHS Pharmacy Operations. Read the statement to learn more. 

Services Will Make Call on Religious Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccines

Image of Two medical people prepare syringes with doses of the COVID-19 vaccine . Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Yan Wang, with the Naval Hospital Yokosuka, and Laurei Fernandes, an American Red Cross volunteer and registered nurse, prepare syringes with doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccine distribution event at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka’s Hawk’s Nest in Yokosuka, Japan, May 20, 2021. For service members who have religious objections to receiving a vaccine, the path for how they might seek an exception to the vaccine is defined by their individual military service's regulations, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said. (U.S. Navy photo by Tetsuya Morita)

In a memorandum released Aug. 9, 2021, the secretary of defense explained how he will ensure the continued health and safety of the U.S military through the use of the available COVID-19 vaccines.

"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," said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.

Right now, there are three COVID-19 vaccines available. All are currently being used across the United States under "emergency use authorization," or EUA, from the Food and Drug Administration.

Those vaccines include the ones from Pfizer and Moderna, both of which require two injections. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only a single shot.

If any of the three vaccines receive full licensure by the FDA before mid-September, Austin said, they will become mandatory immediately. If they do not receive the licensure by mid-September, however, the secretary will request a waiver from the president to make them mandatory.

For service members who have religious objections to receiving a vaccine, the path for how they might seek an exception to the vaccine is defined by their individual military service's regulations, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said during a meeting with the media on Aug. 10, 2021.

"There is a religious exemption possibility for any mandatory vaccine, and there's a process that we go through to counsel the individual both from a medical and from a command perspective about using a religious exemption," Kirby said.

Counseling, he said, includes a discussion with both a medical professional and a commander about the risks of not being vaccinated as well as how not being vaccinated might affect deployability, assignments or travel. Requests for religious exemption differ by service, he said.

"We take freedom of religion and worship seriously, in the military, it's one of the things that we sign up to defend," he said. "And so it's something that's done very carefully."

There are exemptions for mandatory vaccines for medical reasons as well, Kirby said, including pre-existing medical conditions.

"The primary care physician will be able to help make that determination," he said.

Nevertheless, the defense secretary and the department are confident that once the vaccines are mandatory, service members will do their part.

"We have every expectation that once the vaccines are made mandatory, the troops are going to ... do the right thing," he said. "Going forward with this particular vaccine, the secretary's expectation is that commanders are going to treat the administration of that vaccine with — as he wrote in his memo — professionalism, skill and compassion."

Kirby also said the department will ensure that every individual with reservations about getting a vaccine gets proper counseling on its safety and efficacy as well as how not getting the vaccine could affect teammates, readiness and the mission.

You also may be interested in...

Article
Feb 13, 2024

Defense Public Health Hosts Webinar for Red Hill Community

Defense Public Health Hosts Webinar for Red Hill Community

Public health officials from Defense Health Agency Public Health recently hosted a public webinar for members of the community affected by the Red Hill fuel release in 2021. During the event, held on Jan. 9, 2024, U.S. Air Force Col. John Oh, chief of the occupational and environmental health division at the DHA Public Health, gave an update on ...

Article
Aug 1, 2023

Case Report: Complicated Urinary Tract Infection Due to an Extensively Resistant Escherichia coli in a Returning Traveler

This article presents the medical case report of a 76-year-old man who returned to the U.S. following overseas travel and was admitted at Hawai'i's Tri­pler Army Medical Center with a complicated urinary tract infection due to an extensively resistant strain of E. coli.

Article
Jun 1, 2023

Absolute and Relative Morbidity Burdens Attributable to Various Illnesses and Injuries Among Active Component Members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2022

This annual summary uses several health care burden measures to quantify the impacts of various illnesses and injuries in 2022 among members of the active component of the U.S. Armed Forces. Health care burden metrics include the total number of medical encounters, individuals affected, and hospital bed days.

Article
Jun 1, 2023

Absolute and Relative Morbidity Burdens Attributable to Various Illnesses and Injuries Among Active Component Members, U.S. Coast Guard, 2022

This report employs the same disease classification system and health care burden measures as employed in the MSMR burden analysis of the U.S. Armed Forces active component to quantify the impacts of various illnesses and injuries among members of the active component of the U.S. Coast Guard in 2022.

Last Updated: July 11, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery