Members of the United States Armed Forces have just over one month to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new Defense Department policy announced by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday.
The rule comes after months of speculation over whether the Pentagon — currently the largest employer on Earth — would require employees be vaccinated to protect against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"I will seek the President’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in the announcement. Austin added that should the vaccine get final FDA approval before September 15, the military's deadline for required vaccinations would be moved up.
"I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so," Austin stressed in the memo.
Much of the military has already received at least one shot of a COVID vaccine, with 77 percent of naval sailors inoculated, followed by 70 of Army soldiers, 61 percent of the Air Force, and just 58 percent of Marines by the end of this past July according to the Defense Health Agency. At the time that data was released, just under a million members of the military were fully vaccinated, with an additional quarter million having received at least a single dose of vaccine.
But while the prospect of a wholesale vaccination of a huge swath of people would ordinarily be considered a very good thing, there are those on the pro-COVID right who have made a point of standing in the way of mandatory inoculations for the military. Leading the charge has been Kentucky GOP Congressman Thomas Massie, who last month introduced legislation to bar the Pentagon from requiring vaccinations, claiming he'd been "contacted by members of our voluntary military who say they will quit if the COVID vaccine is mandated."
Putting aside the fact that "quitting" the military is itself a crime, Massie and co's objections to mandatory COVID vaccinations seems to conveniently overlook the fact that there's a host of non-COVID vaccinations the military already requires from its troops.
On Monday President Joe Biden enthusiastically backed Sec. Austin's vaccination plans, saying he "strongly support[s]" the proposal. He'd earlier expressed openness mandating the vaccine even before full, final FDA approval, explaining that "a lot of this is timing."