US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that all members of the American military will be required to get vaccinated against Covid-19 by September 15, adding that the deadline could be pushed up in the face of changes in regulations or exacerbation of the pandemic situation.
“I will seek the President’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately” upon licensure by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “whichever comes first”, Austin said in a memo released by the Defense Department on Monday.
Absent of the FDA’s full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which is now authorised only for emergency use, Austin will have to seek a waiver from President Joe Biden in order to make inoculation compulsory for the men and women in uniform, reports Xinhua news agency.
The Secretary said in the memo that a full FDA licensure is expected “early next month”.
“I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so,” said Austin, who underscored the need to closely track the development of the pandemic given the current spike in caseloads caused by the spread of the Delta variant.
“To defend this nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Austin said, encouraging unvaccinated service members to get their jabs early instead of waiting for the mandate.
The Pentagon’s decision came a little over a week after Biden announced that he had directed the Department “to look into how and when they will add Covid-19 to the list of vaccinations our armed forces must get”.
Discussions over mandatory vaccination among active duty troops gained momentum after Biden, while making the suggestion to the Pentagon, announced in late July that all federal civilian workforce in the executive branch were required to attest to their vaccination status, or subject to regular testing, mask-wearing and social-distancing while on the job, as well as restrictions on official travel.
Austin also noted in the memo that the president’s requirements for federal civilian workers “apply to those of you in uniform as well as our civilian and contractor personnel”.
According to the Pentagon, more than 1 million troops have been fully vaccinated and another 237,082 have received one shot.
It also said that that vaccination rates varied widely among different military services.