Washington, Aug 25 (EFE).- Members of the United States Armed Forces are required to get the Covid-19 vaccine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday.
“To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force. After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the President, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people,” he said in a memorandum to the heads of the military branches.
“Mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all of our Service members, and mission-critical inoculation is almost as old as the US military itself,” the retired four-star general said.
The Pentagon said two weeks ago that it planned to impose a vaccine requirement in September and Monday’s decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to extend full licensure to the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine removed a potential legal obstacle to making the injection mandatory.
Two other vaccines, the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson, will continue to be administered under emergency use authorization pending final FDA approval.
Sixty-eight percent of the active duty military has been fully vaccinated and roughly 76 percent have received at least one dose, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday.
In response to a question about service members who are reluctant to get the vaccine, he said that objectors will be given the chance to discuss with a physician and their military superiors “the risks that their objection will impose on the unit and on the force and on their teammates.”
Commanders are expected to use “a wide range of tools” to help “these individuals make the right decision” short of having to take disciplinary action, Kirby said.
“It’s a lawful order. We fully anticipate that our troops are going to follow lawful orders,” he said. “When you raise your right hand and take that oath, that’s what you agree to do. ”
The US, which leads the world in coronavirus deaths with 631,000, has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the Delta variant.
New infections are running at 150,882 a day, 60 percent of the level at the peak of the pandemic in the US in January.
President Joe Biden issued an executive order at the end of last month requiring the more than 4 million federal employees to provide proof of vaccination or submit to regular Covid-19 testing.
The White House coordinator for pandemic response, Jeff Zients, said Tuesday that the pace of vaccination has increased 70 percent since the middle of July, from roughly 260,000 shots per day to 450,000.
More than half of eligible Americans have been fully vaccinated.