TUESDAY, Aug. 10, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- All members of the U.S. military must get a COVID-19 vaccine by mid-September, the Pentagon announced Monday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted that the deadline could be moved up if the vaccine receives final approval sooner from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or if infection rates continue to rise. "I will seek the president's approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon" full FDA approval, "whichever comes first," Austin said in his memo, which was released on Twitter.
The Pentagon plan gives the FDA time to give final approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected to come early next month. Without that formal approval, Austin needs a waiver from President Biden to make the shots mandatory, but Biden has made it clear that he supports the move. In a statement released on Monday, Biden said he strongly supports Austin's plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine "to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September."
Austin's decision mirrors moves made recently by governments and companies around the country, as the highly contagious delta variant drives new U.S. cases, hospitalizations, and deaths to heights not seen since last winter, the Associated Press reported. In the military, where service members live and work closely together in barracks and on ships, concerns about rapid spread of the virus are especially high because any large outbreak in the military could lessen America's ability to defend itself in a security crisis. The military services will have the next few weeks to prepare, determine how many vaccines they need, and how this mandate will be implemented, the AP said.
Austin stressed that if infection rates rise and threaten military readiness, "I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so. To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force."