DOD moves to mandate COVID-19 vaccines by September

The Defense Department plans to require COVID-19 vaccines for civilian, military and contractor personnel as early as September.

The Defense Department plans to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for civilian, military, and contractor personnel as early as September.

In an Aug. 9 memo, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he was seeking approval "to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) licensure, whichever comes first."

Currently, the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines only have emergency approval from the FDA, but full approval is expected for Pfizer's jab soon.

"The intervening few weeks will be spent preparing for this transition," Austin wrote. "In the meantime, we will comply with the President's direction regarding additional restrictions and requirements for unvaccinated Federal personnel. Those requirements apply to those of you in uniform as well as our civilian and contractor personnel."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was hopeful the FDA would grant full approval to the coronavirus vaccine by the end of August on NBC's "Meet the Press".

"I hope that it will be within the next few weeks. I hope it's within the month of August," Fauci said Aug. 8. "If that's the case, you're going to see the empowerment of local enterprises, giving mandates that could be colleges, universities, places of business, a whole variety -- and I strongly support that."

President Joe Biden issued a statement of strong support for the DOD plan.

"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," Biden said

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith expressed support for the DOD mandate, saying "vaccination is the only way to beat this virus" and that "mandatory vaccination is the proven solution to provide protection from the COVID-19 virus and delta variant" in a statement responding to Austin's memo.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), also endorsed the move in a statement.

"We have already seen COVID-19 affect our readiness downrange. Our adversaries will take any advantage they can over us," Rogers said. "We must not allow COVID-19 to be a hindrance on our force."

The defense secretary encouraged all DOD personnel and contractors to get vaccinated and said that DOD would continue to monitor infection rates, according to the memo.

"All FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective. They will protect you and your family. They will protect your unit, your ship, and your co-workers," Austin wrote. "Get the shot. Stay healthy. Stay ready."

Photo: A COVID vaccination drive on board Naval Station Norfolk in April; credit goes to Seaman Jackson Adkins/U.S. Navy.

This article first appeared on FCW, a Defense Systems partner site.