Department of Defense Mandates Vaccine for All Service Members

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Medical staff from Navy Medical Readiness and Training Command Sigonella (Italy) rehearse COVID-19 screening procedures in support of the Department of Defense mission to facilitate the safe departure and relocation of U.S. citizens, Special Immigration Visa recipients, and vulnerable Afghan populations from Afghanistan, Aug. 20,2021. (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Class Kegan Kay)

NATIONWIDE — The Department of Defense (DoD) has announced that it will require all service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said that, after the DoD consulted health officials and experts and with the support of President Joe Biden, the department made the decision that mandatory COVID-19 vaccines were necessary in protection of the health and readiness of America’s military.

According to an Aug. 24 DoD memorandum, policy will apply for all active duty, reserve and National Guard members. This is applicable to all service members not already considered fully vaccinated.

The only one of the three vaccines available that will be mandatory for service members to receive is Comirnaty, previously known as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave final approval for Comirnaty for marketing and distribution for ages 16 years and over. Prior to Aug. 23, Comirnaty, along with the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, was only available due to an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). Comirnaty is still approved through the EUA for ages twelve and up.

While the memorandum does not give a specific date for completion, the DoD has urged the secretaries of the different branches of the military to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation and to report regularly on vaccination completion using established systems for other mandatory vaccine reporting.”

Kirby noted that service members who have preexisting conditions in which medical experts have advised against the member receiving the vaccine will be exempt. He also said that consideration would be taken for service members who cannot receive the vaccine due to religion.

Service members who do not meet the criteria for medical or religious exemption will then have the opportunity to speak to medical experts and will have to report to their chains of command to discuss the risks that refusing the vaccination would cause for their units and mission readiness.

“Commanders have a wide range of tools available to them to help their teammates make the right decision for themselves, for their families, and for their units, and the secretary expects that the commanders will use those tools, short of having to use the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice],” he said.

According to the DoD’s website, as of Saturday, Aug. 28, a total of 247,291 service members are considered partially vaccinated and 1,095,376 are considered fully vaccinated. To see more data regarding COVID-19 and the military, click here.

A person is considered fully vaccinated either two weeks following the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two weeks following the second dose of the Comirnaty or Moderna vaccines.

Currently, those who are 12 years and over are eligible for vaccination. To learn more or to schedule an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Virginia residents are urged to speak to their health care provider or visit the website for Vaccinate Virginia.

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