Pentagon Orders COVID-19 Vaccinations for All Service Members Begin Immediately

New memo comes three weeks before Pentagon's previously announced vaccination deadline

Originally appeared at: Fox News

The Pentagon is requiring all service members to get vaccinated against coronavirus, effective immediately.

The decision, announced in a memo from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, bumps up an earlier plan, which had called for people to get vaccinated by Sept. 15. The announcement of the previous deadline noted that the date could be moved up if a vaccine were to get FDA approval, and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received that approval earlier this week.

The Pentagon is requiring all service members to get vaccinated against coronavirus, effective immediately.

The decision, announced in a memo from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, bumps up an earlier plan, which had called for people to get vaccinated by Sept. 15. The announcement of the previous deadline noted that the date could be moved up if a vaccine were to get FDA approval, and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received that approval earlier this week.

While any of the vaccines that the FDA has permitted under Emergency Use Authorizations are acceptable, the Pentagon will only require people to get vaccinated using an FDA-approved vaccine. So far, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one to get full FDA approval.

The memo encouraged the military secretaries to "impose ambitious timelines" to complete the vaccination process.

At a briefing Wednesday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby indicated that exceptions will be made for service members who have a religious objection, or who have a health condition such that a doctor advises them not to get the vaccine. Kirby said that anyone refusing the vaccine outside of those two exceptions would need to speak with a physician and their commanding officer to talk about the risks, but he declined to say if they would face discipline under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

"It's a lawful order," Kirby said. "And we fully anticipate that our troops are going to follow lawful orders. When you raise your right hand and and you take that oath, that's what you agree to do."

The Uniform Code of Military Justice directs that anyone who fails to obey a lawful order "shall be punished as a court-martial may direct," though Kirby indicated that commanders would use "plenty of other tools" to persuade service members "short of having to use disciplinary action."

Sixty-eight percent of the military is fully vaccinated, and 76% have received at least one dose, Kirby said Wednesday.

But some branches have seen more vaccinations than others. In the Navy, 73% are fully vaccinated while 40% of the Army are fully vaccinated. The Marine Corps has a 53% vaccination rate, and the Air Force 57%.

President Biden endorsed the idea of a vaccine mandate in a statement issued earlier this month following Austin's initial mandate announcement.

"I strongly support Secretary Austin’s message to the Force today on the Department of Defense’s plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September," Biden said. "Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible."

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