Washington (Associated Press)-Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin vowed that as the Department of Defense begins to implement new vaccine and testing instructions, he “will not let grass grow under our feet.” But Pentagon officials spent the weekend busy figuring out how to formulate and implement these changes in a large military population, and determine which National Guard and Reserve forces will be affected by the order.
The Pentagon now has two separate missions involving a statement announced by President Joe Biden on Thursday aimed at increasing the COVID-19 vaccine in the federal workforce. The Department of Defense must develop a plan for the military to be vaccinated and set new requirements for federal workers who must either prove vaccinated against COVID-19 or face frequent testing and travel restrictions.
Austin said on Friday that the department will act quickly, but added that he cannot predict how long it will take. He said he plans to consult medical professionals and military leaders.
Any plan for mandatory vaccination requires Biden to sign a waiver, because the US Food and Drug Administration has not formally approved the vaccine. According to federal law, the requirement for individuals to choose to accept or refuse the use of emergency vaccines can only be waived by the president, “only when the president has determined in writing that compliance with such requirements is not in the national interest.” “
Mandating the use of vaccines before FDA approval may trigger opposition from vaccine opponents and drag the military into political debates about what has become a highly divisive issue in the United States.
However, military commanders have also been trying to distinguish vaccinated recruits from recruits who were not vaccinated early in the basic training of various services to prevent infection. Therefore, for some people, authorization can make training and housing less complicated.
Military personnel have been required to receive as many as 17 different vaccines, depending on their location around the world. Some vaccines are specific to certain regions. Military officials stated that the vaccination rate of the entire army has been accelerating, and nearly 100% of the members of some units have been vaccinated.
According to the Pentagon, more than 1 million military personnel have been fully vaccinated, and another 233,000 have been vaccinated at least once. There are approximately 2 million active duty, guard and reserve forces.
Vaccine authorization will also raise questions about whether the military will fire troops that refuse to be vaccinated.
National Guard officials stated that preliminary guidance indicated that once the vaccination is mandatory, the guards that initially refused to receive the vaccination will be consulted by medical personnel. If they still refuse, they will be ordered to accept, and failure to comply with the order may result in administrative or punitive action.
On Friday, National Guard officials said that leaders are still determining legal advice, which citizen soldiers will be affected by the new requirements and which will not. Officials said that when vaccinations are mandatory, most guards seem to eventually have to vaccinate.
The active federal guards will vaccinate their units wherever they are deployed, and others will receive the vaccine during their monthly weekend exercises or annual training reports. According to Guard officials, the system will be similar to any other vaccine requirement.
Members of the guards on active duty in the state are initially not subject to this requirement because they are subject to state law. However, once they resume their monthly exercises, the order will apply to them. The security officer spoke of the new vaccine procedure on condition of anonymity because the procedure is still being finalized.
Although the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the entire military is still low-mainly due to the age and health of the military-cases of the virus have been increasing.
As of this week, there have been more than 208,600 COVID-19 cases among U.S. military personnel. Among them, more than 1,800 were hospitalized and 28 died.
Earlier this year, the number of cases and hospitalizations had been increasing at a relatively small and steady number, with the death toll stagnating at 26 within two and a half months. In recent weeks, the total has soared. In the last week alone, the number of cases increased by more than 3,000, and the number of hospitalizations increased by 36 cases. Last week, two other Navy sailors died.