President Joe Biden has given the go signal for the U.S. military leadership to mandate Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines for service members. The president said on July 29 that he has asked the Department of Defense (DoD) to examine how and when to require COVID-19 vaccines. He defended his decision by saying that troops are often deployed to places with low vaccination rates and high COVID-19 cases.
Biden’s July 29 remarks said: “Our men and women in uniform, who protect this country against grave threats, should be protected as much as possible from getting COVID-19.” He added: “Since many vaccinations are required for active duty military [personnel] today, I’m asking the Defense Department to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 [vaccines] to the list of vaccinations our armed forces must get.”
The president was then asked if Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is open to requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for service members before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approves vaccines. “I know he’s open to it,” Biden answered. He continued: “And the question is: When is the right time to get the most bang for the buck when you do it? A lot of this is timing.”
“I think it’s going to happen, but … it’s still a temporary approval. So when does the final approval come? It usually takes … a lot of work to get there,” Biden said. Currently, the COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. were only granted emergency use authorization. Military leadership stated previously that until the FDA grants full approval for these vaccines, they would not be mandatory for service members.
Vaccination rates are declining in the armed forces, a trend seen in other areas in the country. Austin said in mid-July 2021 that 70 percent of active-duty troops had received at least one vaccine dose. Sixty-two percent of active service members had been fully vaccinated, he added.
Biden’s July 26 remarks came amid slowing vaccination rates and the spread of the more transmissible delta variant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks in areas where the delta variant is rapidly spreading. In line with this, the military followed suit – with the Pentagon bringing back mask mandates.
Earlier, Biden said he was considering the idea of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination among the armed forces. He revealed this during an April 30 TODAY interview with host Craig Melvin. However, he said at that time he was not planning to mandate inoculation for troops. (Related: Members of the military plan to RESIGN if coronavirus vaccines are mandated.)
Melvin mentioned a survey that found 40 percent of Marines planning not to get inoculated. He then asked the president if he will require service members to get the COVID-19 vaccine once FDA grants full approval. “I don’t know. I’m going to leave that to the military. Well, I’m not saying I won’t,” Biden answered. (Related: Biden mulls requiring all military forces to receive coronavirus vaccine.)
Despite this, Biden remained optimistic that more service members will get the COVID-19 vaccine without a mandate from him. “I think you’re going to see more and more of them getting it. And I think it’s going to be a tough call as to whether or not they should be required to have to get it in the military,” he told Melvin. According to Biden, the fact that military personnel are always in close proximity with each other contributed to the difficulty in deciding.
According to the Pentagon’s COVID-19 website, more than 1 million service members have completed their COVID-19 vaccine dose. It also counted another 233,000 service members as partially vaccinated. Taken together, these figures equate to at least 60 percent of the roughly 2.1 million U.S. military forces that are inoculated against SARS-CoV-2.