(The Center Square) – A new requirement from the U.S. armed forces has sparked controversy and furthered the debate over mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote a memo to Department of Defense employees Monday announcing that the COVID-19 vaccine will be added to the list of required vaccines for all service members.
Critics have raised concerns about potential health complications with the vaccine and pointed to the lack of full FDA approval. Austin addressed FDA concerns in his letter, requesting the vaccine mandate take effect in mid-September, even if it has not yet received full approval.
“So, over the last week, I have consulted closely with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of the Military Departments, the Service Chiefs, and medical professionals,” he wrote. “I appreciate greatly the advice and counsel they provided. Based on these consultations and on additional discussions with leaders of the White House COVID Task Force, I want you to know that I will seek the President's approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensure, whichever comes first.”
The decision came at President Joe Biden’s request.
“By way of expectation, public reporting suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could achieve full FDA licensure early next month,” he said. “The intervening few weeks will be spent preparing for this transition. I have every confidence that Service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill, and compassion. We will have more to say about this as implementation plans are fully developed. 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.”
U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said in July he had heard from military members saying there will be a mass resignation if the mandate is put in place.
“According to the GAO and congressional testimony, there were similar results (departures) when the military mandated the anthrax vaccine,” he said.
Biden confirmed the news in a statement Monday and gave his support for the vaccine requirement.
“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,” he said. “We cannot let up in the fight against COVID-19, especially with the Delta variant spreading rapidly through unvaccinated populations. We are still on a wartime footing, and every American who is eligible should take immediate steps to get vaccinated right away.”