The U.S. military will require service members to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by mid-September, the U.S. Department of Defense announced on Monday.
Currently, 73% of active duty personnel have at least one dose of the vaccine, DOD officials said.
The deadline has been endorsed by President Joe Biden, who recently asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to consider how and when the COVID vaccine could be added to the list of required vaccines for all service members. The question came in response to a spike in cases caused by the Delta variant.
“Our men and women in uniform who protect this country from grave threats should be protected as much as possible from getting COVID-19,” Biden said during a July 29 speech.
Austin consulted with Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the service secretaries and the rest of the Joint Chiefs in making his decision.
“Based on these consultations and on additional discussions with leaders of the White House COVID-19 Task Force, I want you to know that I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensure, whichever comes first,” Austin said in a memo to all service members.
All DOD leaders will be involved in expanding the program.
“I have every confidence that service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill and compassion,” Austin wrote in the memo. “We will have more to say about this as implementation plans are fully developed.”
Austin also said the department will comply with the president’s direction regarding additional restrictions and requirements for unvaccinated federal personnel. These requirements cover military and civilian personnel.
The DOD will keep a close eye on infection rates “and the impact these rates might have on our readiness,” Austin said. “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the president if I feel the need to do so.”
More and more employers across the nation are now requiring employees to be vaccinated against the virus or face severe consequences, including termination.