The Pentagon will require that all members of the United States military are vaccinated against the coronavirus by September 15, according to a memorandum obtained by The Associated Press.
The deadline could be advanced if the vaccine receives formal approval from the US health agency, or if contagion rates continue to rise.
“I will seek the president’s approval for vaccines to be mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately after” clearance by the Food and Drug Administration “whichever comes first,” warned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in the memorandum to the troops.
“I will not hesitate to act before or to recommend another alternative to the president if I feel the need to do so,” he added.
The memo is expected to be released on Monday.
Austin’s decision comes just over a week after President Joe Biden asked Defense officials to develop a plan to require troops to be vaccinated, as part of a broader campaign to increase vaccinations among state employees at the federal level.
The measure reflects similar decisions by governments and companies around the world as countries battle the highly contagious Delta variant that has caused new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the US to skyrocket to levels that not seen from the peaks of last winter.
Austin said in his memo that the military services will have the next few weeks to prepare, determine how many vaccines they need, and how this mandate will be implemented.
The extra time, however, is also a nod to the bitter political division over the vaccine, and the knowledge that making it mandatory will likely unleash a wave of opposition to the vaccine in state and federal governments, Congress, and the American public.
It also gives the FDA time give your final approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected early next month. Without that formal approval, Austin would need a Biden waiver for vaccinations to be mandatory.
Troops often live and work closely together in barracks and on ships, which increases risks of rapid spread.
And any major outbreak of the virus in the military could affect the United States’ ability to defend itself in any national security crisis.
The decision will add the COVID-19 vaccine to a list of other inoculations that service members already they are bound to receive.
Depending on their location in the world, service members they can receive up to 17 different vaccines.