The US military on Tuesday announced the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for soldiers, and warned that members who refuse could be subject to “relief of duties” or “discharge”.
The army began implementing the Defense Secretary’s order last month, After full approval of Pfizer’s two-dose shot by the Food and Drug Administration. Earlier, vaccines for COVID-19 were optional.
Active-duty units are now expected to be fully vaccinated by December 15, 2021, and Reserve and National Guard units are expected to be fully immunized by June 30, 2022.
Soldiers can request administrative or medical exemptions.
Soldiers who refuse the vaccine without a waiver could face administrative or nonjudicial penalties – including relief or discharge from duty, A release issued by the army said. First they will be counseled by their chain of command and medical providers.
Additionally, officers in Commander, Command Sergeant Major, First Sergeant and Command Select List (CSL) posts who refuse vaccination and do not have waiver requests pending may face suspension and relief if they refuse to comply. have to do.
According to the Pentagon, more than 1.3 million soldiers are on active duty and about 800,000 are in the Guards and Reserves. As of September 8, more than 1.1 million service members had been fully vaccinated and approximately 297,000 more had received at least one shot, according to the defense department.
Defense officials have said it is important for soldiers to get the vaccine because they live and work together and the outbreak could hinder the US military’s ability to defend America.
Troops will be able to receive their Pfizer shots from their command at their bases and around the world. The Pentagon has said it has enough vaccine supplies to meet demand. Individual service members can also go out and get any other COVID-19 vaccines on their own.
However, meeting the vaccine mandate could be a challenge for National Guard forces, which are spread across the country and gather only once a month for their essential exercises.
In a memo released last month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted that the mandate would allow exemptions that are in line with existing policies for all other vaccines. Members of the US military are already required to receive 17 different vaccines, depending on where they are deployed.
Permanent remission includes severe medical reactions to vaccines, immunodeficiency such as HIV infection, and “evidence of existing immunity” by a serological antibody test or “documenting previous infection or natural infection”.
There are also administrative exemptions, including one for religious reasons. Religious exemptions are granted by military services based on their policies, and this appears to be relatively rare. Decisions are made by commanders based on consultation with medical personnel and clergy.
In a message to the force earlier this month, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Defense Department’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that medical professionals recommend vaccines and that getting the shots is the key to maintaining an army that is ready to defend. Is. Nation. At the bottom of his message, Milley wrote a handwritten note: “Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a major force safety and preparedness issue.”
According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 54% of the population nationwide has been fully vaccinated with one of the country’s three options from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.
Moderna has also applied to the FDA for full approval of its vaccine. J&J said it expects to do so later this year.
This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.