In comments to the White House, Biden stopped short of imposing a vaccine mandate right away. But he said he had asked the Defense Ministry to consider how and when the military would add vaccines to protect against COVID-19 to the list of other vaccines service members should receive.
Biden said making vaccinations mandatory is important because troops often serve in places with low vaccination rates and where COVID is prevalent.
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“The men and women in uniform, who protect this country from serious threats, should be protected as much as possible from COVID-19,” he said.
COVID vaccines are now available for emergencies. Until the Food and Drug Administration issues full approval for vaccines, the military cannot make them legally mandatory for service members.
When asked if Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was willing to make troop vaccination mandatory before the vaccine was fully approved by the FDA, Biden said, “I know he’s open to this.
“The question is, when is the right time to get the most bang for your buck,” Biden continued. “It’s largely a question of timing. I think it’s going to happen, but… it’s still a temporary approval. “
Biden said he would not pressure health agencies to come to conclusions on vaccine approval, but said he believed they would reach their conclusions in early fall.
Immunization rates are slowing in the military, as in other parts of the country. In mid-July, Austin said 70% of active-duty troops had received at least one shot of the vaccine and 62% were fully vaccinated.
The Pentagon’s COVID website said more than one million military personnel are fully vaccinated and another 233,000 are partially vaccinated. This equates to at least 60% of the total military force of around 2.1 million – including active, guard, and reserve troops – which are at least partially vaccinated, although all guard and reserve troops who were vaccinated can be recorded in these numbers.
Biden’s directive, along with other initiatives he unveiled that aim to encourage and facilitate the vaccination of civilians, comes as vaccination rates slow and concerns spread over a coronavirus mutation more transmissible called the Delta variant.
After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week recommended that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas of the country where the virus is spreading rapidly, the military has followed suit.
The heavily trafficked Pentagon has also reimposed its own mask mandates, even though its location in Arlington, Virginia sees only moderate spread of COVID overall.
In his remarks at the White House, Biden denounced how COVID vaccines have become politicized by some, and praised Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., And Republican Governor of Alabama Kay Ivey for encouraging citizens of their states to get vaccinated. .
“It’s not about red states and blue states, it’s literally about life and death,” Biden said. “I know people talk about freedom. I learned growing up… with freedom comes responsibility. The decision not to be vaccinated has an impact on someone else. Unvaccinated people spread the virus. … So please use responsible judgment. Get vaccinated.
“It’s an American blessing that we have vaccines for every American,” he continued. “It’s such a shame to waste this blessing. “
– Stephen Losey can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @StephenLosey.
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