Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memo Monday saying he will ask the president to approve makinga requirement by mid-September. "I have every confidence that Service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill, and compassion," Austin said in the memo.
Austin said he will seek to make the vaccine mandatory either by mid-September or immediately upon the FDA's full approval, whichever comes first. Vaccines in the military are voluntary when under emergency use authorization by the FDA. The president has the authority to waive the rule and make the vaccine a requirement for personnel.
In a statement, President Biden said he "strongly" supported Austin's decision.
"I am proud that our military women and men will continue to help lead the charge in the fight against this pandemic, as they so often do, by setting the example of keeping their fellow Americans safe," Mr. Biden said.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that Mr. Biden's message of support is appreciated but does not constitute the approval of a waiver. The Pentagon still has to go through the process of requesting a waiver and receiving approval from the president, which it has not done yet.
The memo issued on Monday outlines the plan moving forward.
"You can consider this memo today as what we would call in the military a warning order - a warning order to the force that this is coming, and we want you to be ready for it as well. Obviously we'd prefer that you get the vaccine now and not wait for the mandate," Kirby said.
The military services are working on implementation plans so that when a vaccine is mandatory either with a waiver from the president or after FDA authorization, the services are ready to implement. Kirby told reporters Monday the Department doesn't expect supply to be an issue.
Mr. Biden in July asked Austin to look into when and how to make the vaccine mandatory. Though FDA approval of Pfizer's vaccine may be inching closer in the next few weeks, the danger posed by the highly contagioushas prompted action.
The Department of Defense in a statement following Mr. Biden's speech last month said Austin would consult with medical professionals as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff to determine how when to make recommendations to the president to require the COVID-19 vaccines.
As of Monday, at least 74% of active duty personnel are partially vaccinated and 65% are fully vaccinated.
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