The Pentagon announced on Monday that as of mid-September, all military personnel will have to have received their vaccinations to help protect themselves and prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the armed forces.
According to a memo obtained by The Associated Press, Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will make the vaccine mandatory for all active duty members of the military.
“I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September,” Austin’s memo said.
Austin also said that he “will not hesitate to act sooner” to enforce the requirement if he feels “the need to do so.”
The decision by Austin comes just over a week after President Joe Biden asked officials in the Defense Department to create a plan to require members of the military to be vaccinated.
The objective may not be too difficult to achieve. Members of the military are already vaccinated at much higher rates than the general public, with close to two-thirds of all active duty military personnel already fully vaccinated and almost three-quarters having received at least their first doses of one of the vaccines for COVID-19.
By comparison, only 50 percent of the American public is fully vaccinated, with just 58 percent having received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine.
Most Americans support vaccine requirements for members of the military, a recent Economist/YouGov poll found, with 60 percent saying the vaccine should be mandatory for those enlisted and only 26 percent disagreeing with the idea. That same poll further demonstrates that Americans think vaccines should also be required for a number of other industries and government functions.
Sixty-two percent of Americans think teachers should be mandated to get vaccinated, while 66 percent say that medical providers should also be required to do so. And 59 percent of poll participants said all federal employees should be required to get their vaccinations.
The requirement to vaccinate the military is part of a broader attempt by the White House to get more federal workers vaccinated. The Biden administration is reportedly considering using executive branch regulatory powers in order to do so.
According to several sources who have spoken to The Washington Post, the Biden White House is discussing the possibility of withholding federal funds to state and local governments, as well as private and nonprofit sector entities that receive federal funding, if they don’t mandate or enforce vaccination requirements.
No decision on the idea has been made as of yet, and lawyers discussing the idea with the White House have advised the president that, if he does go forward with it, such actions should only be used in rare circumstances.
There is also concern that a move in this direction could have the opposite impact of what is intended. While requirements would likely be supported by most if they’re targeted toward certain industries, in far right pockets of the country the mandates to get vaccinated could result in further backlash from conservative lawmakers and their supporters, possibly making it that much harder to convince holdouts that getting vaccinated is a good idea.
Around 90 million Americans are eligible to get vaccinated at this time who have not yet gotten their shots. On average, 110,360 new cases of COVID are currently being identified each day, the highest rate seen since early February and a rate that’s around twice as high as what was seen at this time last year.
Hospitalizations due to coronavirus are up by 90 percent compared to where they were two weeks ago, and more than 500 Americans have died per day, on average, over the same time period.