Skip to main content

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

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...

Publication
Aug 1, 2022

Whole Health System Approach to Long COVID

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Health Administration is leading an effort to equip health care providers with a Veteran-centered Whole Health System approach to caring for Veterans with Long COVID, also known as post-COVID-19 conditions.

Publication
Oct 21, 2020

Updated Guidance for Performing Temperature Checks at Military MTFs and DTFs

.PDF | 179.18 KB

This guidance is an update to Defense Health Agency Return to Full Operations Concept of Operations, V5.0 (June 12, 2020) as it pertains to temperature checks in MTFs and DTFs. Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), previous guidance directed MTFs to take the temperature of all individuals entering the facility. ...

Publication
Aug 6, 2020

Force Health Protection Guidance (Supplement 12) -Department of Defense Guidance for Personnel Traveling During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic

.PDF | 4.56 MB

This memorandum supplements requirements in references (a), (b), and (c) with respect to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and replaces reference (d). It provides pre- and post­travel guidance for purposes of force health protection (FHP) of Service members, DoD family members, DoD civilian employees, and DoD contractor personnel.

Publication
Jun 3, 2020

Communication to ABA Providers Regarding Continued Temporary Authorization to Utilize Telehealth for CPT Code 97156 During the COVID-19 National Emergency

.PDF | 122.59 KB

TRICARE is announcing the continuation of the temporary exception to policy regarding the use of synchronous telehealth (TH) capabilities (both audio and video) for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Family Adaptive Behavior Treatment Guidance services specifically during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication
May 26, 2020

Force Health Protection Guidance (Supplement 9) -Department of Defense Guidance for Deployment and Redeployment of Individuals and Units during the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic

.PDF | 243.02 KB

This memorandum provides force health protection (FHP) deployment and redeployment guidance for Service members (including Reserve Component (RC) and National Guard members in a title 10 or title 32 duty status) and DoD civilian employees deploying within and outside the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with references (a) and (b).

Publication
Apr 20, 2020

Modification and Reissuance of DoD Response to Coronavirus Disease 2019 -Travel Restrictions

.PDF | 960.08 KB

All DoD Service members will stop movement, both internationally and domestically, while this memorandum is in effect. All DoD civilian personnel, and dependents of DoD Service members and DoD civilian personnel, whose travel is Government-funded will stop movement, both internationally and domestically, while this memorandum is in effect.

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