WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a memo issued Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed the U.S. military branches to immediately begin fully vaccinating all members of the armed forces. He said secretaries of the military departments “should impose ambitious timelines for implementation.”
That means the military members who have not yet been vaccinated will receive Pfizer shots because they’re the only vaccines that have received full approval from the FDA so far. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still awaiting full approval, but they’re available in the U.S. under emergency use authorization.
Austin said in the memo that service members who have received Moderna or J&J vaccines will still be considered fully vaccinated. But those who have previously been infected with the coronavirus are not considered fully inoculated.
Austin said mandatory vaccinations are necessary to protect the force and defend the American people.
“Mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all of our service members, and mission-critical inoculation is almost as old as the U.S. military itself,” wrote Austin. “Our administration of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines has produced admirable results to date, and I know the Department of Defense will come together to finish the job, with urgency, professionalism, and compassion.”
In a Wednesday briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby addressed the options for service members who may still object to getting vaccinated.
"For a member who still objects, obviously you can ask for an exemption on religious grounds. You certainly can be exempt if you have a pre-existing condition that your doctor advises you not to get it, obviously,” said Kirby. “But if it's an objection outside those two frameworks, the individual will be offered a chance to sit down with a physician and have that physician communicate to them the risks that they're taking by continuing to not want to take the vaccine. They will also be offered a chance to sit down with their chain of command and their leadership to talk about the risks that their objection will impose on the unit and on the force and on their teammates."
In San Diego, military officials have received Austin's order and "are ready to rapidly vaccinate the remaining Sailors and Marines in the area," according to Naval Medical Forces Pacific public affairs officer Cmdr. Chris Lopez:
"We received the Secretary of Defense’s memorandum early this morning and are ready to rapidly vaccinate the remaining Sailors and Marines in the area. We will use shot exercises on the pier in San Diego and out in the field for the Marines at Camp Pendleton as well as our local military hospitals and clinics to do this. The Navy is rapidly coordinating execution guidance, which will provide additional details on how and when we will implement our efforts. The Department requires many vaccines for its Service members and executes on these mass vaccination requirements frequently, so we are confident in our ability to quickly administer the vaccines. Additionally, service members do not need to wait until plans are solidified. Within the San Diego Defense Health Agency market, they can visit any of our Medical Treatment Facilities (MTFs) and branch clinics today and get vaccinated. They can also get the vaccine administered by a non-DoD provider out in the community. However, they will need to show proof of vaccination so that it may be entered into their medical record."
San Diego military officials told ABC 10News they are "prepared to execute up to 7,000 shots daily within the San Diego DHA market," which includes Navy Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.
More than 800,000 service members have yet to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Pentagon data obtained by the AP.
Austin said earlier this month that he’d require service members to be vaccinated either when a vaccine received full FDA approval or if President Joe Biden signed a waiver directing it.