Unlike Florida and Texas, the U.S. military is going to be doing its part to slow the spread of the coronavirus. According to a memo obtained by The Associated Press, Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin is going to seek President Joe Biden’s approval to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all active duty members in uniform by Sept. 15.
Austin’s memo, expected to be distributed to troops on Monday, says, “I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” licensure by the Food and Drug Administration “whichever comes first.” He added that if infection rates rise and potentially affect 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,” he wrote.
That Sept. 15 deadline could be pushed up if the vaccine receives final FDA approval before then or if infection rates continue to rise.
Austin’s decision comes a bit more than a week after President Joe Biden told defense officials to develop a plan requiring troops to get shots as part of a broader campaign to increase vaccinations in the federal workforce. It reflects similar decisions by governments and companies around the world, as nations struggle with the highly contagious delta variant that has sent new U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths surging to heights not see since the peaks last winter.
In his memo Austin said that the military services will have the next few weeks to prepare, determine how many vaccines they need, and how this mandate will be implemented to inoculate all 1.4 million active duty soldiers.
It also provides time for the FDA to give final approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected early next month. Without that formal approval, Austin would need a waiver from Biden to make the shots mandatory.