The Pentagon says it will seek US President Joe Biden’s approval by mid-September to require 1.3 million military members to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Joe Biden has already made it clear he “strongly supports” the plan
- The mid-September deadline could be accelerated if the Pfizer vaccine receives final FDA approval earlier
- The US military says about half of its members are already fully vaccinated
After setting COVID-19 rules for federal workers, Mr Biden last month directed the Pentagon to look into “how and when” it would require members of the military to recieve vaccine.
With the move, the Biden administration deferred a coronavirus vaccine mandate for active duty troops to next month, with the expectation that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would give full approval to the Pfizer vaccine.
Currently that vaccine falls under an emergency use authorisation.
“I strongly support … the Department of Defense’s plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September,” Mr Biden said in a statement.
The date could be moved up if the FDA approved the vaccine earlier, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo.
Mr Austin said he could recommend a different course if the COVID-19 situation worsened.
Two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the vaccine could have been immediately mandated, but more than a month was allowed in the hope of full FDA approval.
That action might reduce fears about the safety of the shot and political blowback from opponents of vaccine mandates.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the military did not have a deadline for all troops to be vaccinated.
Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has said he hopes regulators can start granting full approval for the vaccines as soon as this month.
The US military says about half the US armed forces are already fully vaccinated — a number that climbs significantly when counting only active duty troops and excluding National Guard and reserve members.
Vaccination rates are highest in the Navy, which suffered from a high-profile outbreak last year aboard an aircraft carrier. About 73 per cent of sailors are fully vaccinated.
That compares with the US national average of about 60 per cent of adults ages 18 and over who have been fully vaccinated.
Because US troops are generally younger and fitter, relatively few US service members have died due to COVID-19 — just 28 in total, according to Pentagon data.
Many congressional Republicans have refused to say publicly whether they have been vaccinated, and some have attacked the shots as unnecessary or dangerous.