Pentagon pushes ahead with COVID vaccine mandate

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks with the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

The Defense Department is preparing to mandate the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on the heels of the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the drug on Aug. 23.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin indicated earlier this month that he would push for COVID-19 vaccine mandate by September or sooner if the FDA approved it. Now that it is approved, DOD is developing "actionable guidance" for service members -- about 1.4 million on active duty.

John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Aug. 23 that DOD "is prepared to issue updated guidance requiring all servicemembers to be vaccinated" and will release a timeline in the coming days.

"These efforts ensure the safety of our service members and promote the readiness of our force, not to mention the health and safety of the communities around the country in which we live," Kirby said.

"We're preparing the guidance to the force right now. And the actual completion date of it, in other words, how fast we want to see it get done, we're working through that guidance right now."

The FDA authorized three COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use: Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. However, DOD's mandate would only focus on the Pfizer vaccine due to the FDA's full approval, Kirby said.

Speaking from the White House briefing room on Monday, Jen Psaki, the Biden administration press secretary, indicated that the approval will likely mean more vaccine mandates for feds.

"We certainly expect there will be more mandates for ... federal employees," Psaki said. "I think you're looking more at agency-to-agency, or different factions of the government at this point, but expect there will be more on that front."

Currently, civilian federal employees and onsite contractors must attest to being vaccinated or take regular COVID tests. So far only the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services have instituted vaccine mandates, which apply to public-facing clinical staff.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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