The Pentagon distributed memos on Monday revealing that all members of the military will be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19, The Associated Press reports.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that all troops must be vaccinated by mid-September, though that timeline could move up if the FDA grants final approval to one of the vaccines.
“I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” FDA approval, “whichever comes first,” Austin said in the memo.
The FDA is expected to grant final approval to the Pfizer vaccine early next month.
Austin can still require the vaccine if the FDA does not approve the vaccine, though he will need a waiver from President Joe Biden to do so, which the president has said he supports.
“I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so,” Austin said. “To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.”
Biden earlier this month said he would require all federal employees to be vaccinated or be tested regularly. Some states and local governments have issued similar orders, as have some private companies.
Biden on Monday said that he supports adding “to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September.”
Biden added the country is still on a wartime footing and “being vaccinated will enable our service members to stay healthy, to better protect their families, and to ensure that our force is ready to operate anywhere in the world.”
Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, also backed the move, saying, “Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a key force protection and readiness issue.”
Tennessee Republican Rep. Mark Green said that the military should not require vaccines before they are approved by the FDA.
“Wearing our country’s uniform does not mean our service members sign away the right to make personal medical decisions,” he said.
But Alabama Republican Rep. Mike Rogers agreed that the vaccine would protect troops who have to live in close quarters and can’t work remotely.
“Some may try and criticize the Secretary’s decision, using anti-vax arguments that are not supported by facts or science to politicize the conversation,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, the chairman of the Armed Forces Committee. “These desperate attention seekers must be ignored.”