Mandatory Military Vaccinations Expected

It appears to be only a matter of time before the SECDEF orders active-duty troops to get the shots.

Major Kimberly Bender, Director Air Force Public Affairs , Joint Base San Antonio, Fort Sam Houston, receives the first of two COVID 19 vaccine shots, Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, 29 Jan 2021.
US Army Photo in Public Domain

CNN‘s Barbara Starr (“Defense Secretary Austin expected to make Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for active duty troops“):

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to seek authorization to make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for all active duty troops as soon as this week, following President Joe Biden’s directive that the military examine how and when it could make that happen. Austin’s “inclination is towards making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory” for active duty troops, a defense official told CNN.

If the secretary makes that final recommendation, he could seek a presidential waiver to allow the vaccine to be administered to troops before full approval by the Food and Drug Administration. A Pentagon decision and recommendation on how to proceed could come this week, several officials say.

[…]

The Pentagon previously indicated it was likely to wait for FDA approval before making inoculation against Covid-19 mandatory, but Biden’s push for greater vaccination levels created pressure to move more quickly and will likely lead the Pentagon to request a presidential waiver.

Justice Department memo dated July 6 said that, “because DOD has informed us that it understandably does not want to convey inaccurate or confusing information to service members—that is, telling them that they have the ‘option’ to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine if they effectively lack such an option because of a military order—DOD should seek a presidential waiver before it imposes a vaccination requirement.”Traveling in the Philippines last week, Austin told a news conference that he would consult with medical professionals and the services on a timeline for implementing a new policy. “But we won’t let grass grow under our feet,” he said. “The President directed us to do something and we’ll get after it.”

The current thinking at the Pentagon is to have the military services and geographic commanders work together to establish new schedules for vaccination of troops around the world. Troops scheduled for upcoming deployments could be among the first to have mandatory vaccines, officials say.

Defense Department civilians would fall under any rules established for federal employees. National Guard forces would only be covered by the mandate when they are activated by federal, not state, authorities.

Biden announced last week that all federal employees must attest to being vaccinated against Covid-19 or face strict protocols including regular testing, masking and other mitigation measures. At the time, the Pentagon said the new requirements would apply to military and civilian Defense Department personnel, and that it was also considering adding Covid-19 vaccines to the list of required vaccines for military personnel.

Oddly, the order came down late last Friday that everyone aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico was required to mask indoors regardless of vaccination status. I say “oddly” because it contradicts current Defense Department guidance for areas with moderate COVID spread.

Regardless, requiring military personnel to get vaccinated is long overdue. Vulnerability to a debilitating, life-threatening virus is a risk to mission. Even though the young, healthy folks who make up the lion’s share of the force are likely to recover, constantly having people down for 10 to 14 days while they quarantine is unacceptable when a vaccine is available.

I would go a step further and require vaccination for all Federal employees and contractors as a condition of employment. That, however, might require a change in the law or expedited full-approval status for the vaccines.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am reminded of a humorous anecdote I read. A Marine DI is explaining to the boots that they now belong to the US government and that if they attempt suicide or any other self harm, they will be prosecuted for destruction of US govt property.

    That’s one way of putting it.

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  2. Scott says:

    I agree with this. The lack of FDA approval may become moot as the the FDA seems now to be expediting the approval process for at least one vaccine.

    For those who like a little history, I stumbled across this:

    The Long History of Mandated Vaccines in the United States

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  3. Mikey says:

    Oddly, the order came down late last Friday that everyone aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico was required to mask indoors regardless of vaccination status. I say “oddly” because it contradicts current Defense Department guidance for areas with moderate COVID spread.

    MCB Quantico straddles Prince William County, currently at “substantial” spread, and Stafford County, currently at “high.” Prince William moved up from “moderate” sometime last week.

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  4. Kathy says:

    In an organization where a fair share of employees are expected to routinely risk their life and well-being, should not see a measure that’s protective of life and has few side effects as controversial.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: That makes sense. I think if Quantico as PW since I come in from the north gate. At the time, it was still Moderate but it’s not shocking that it’s gone up. Of course, the base is something of its own animal and the vaccination rate is extraordinarily high. We’re over 90% at the college.

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  6. KM says:

    Vulnerability to a debilitating, life-threatening virus is a risk to mission. Even though the young, healthy folks who make up the lion’s share of the force are likely to recover, constantly having people down for 10 to 14 days while they quarantine is unacceptable when a vaccine is available.

    This requires admitting COVID is a problem and thus a legitimate threat to the overall mission of the military: protect and defend the United States. It also means that a governmental agency that has the ability to force it on you now officially will state COVID bad, You’re Getting Vaxxed and Your “Opinion” Doesn’t Matter. All this whining about choices and fee-fees doesn’t matter in a place where your free will is curtailed in favor of the greater good of the mission like it should have been for society at large during the pandemic. ​It puts people like MTG and DeSantis in a spot because they come from places that send quite a few folk to the military – do you now Support the Troops or Please the MAGAts?

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  7. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: My office is in Stafford County and we’re probably over 95% vaccinated here, but “high spread” in the county means “mask up” for us too. It is what it is, as the kids say. Nobody’s really complaining, we had gotten used to it, but the few weeks we didn’t have to wear it were nice.

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  8. Mikey says:

    @KM:

    do you now Support the Troops or Please the MAGAts?

    Is that even a question anymore? Of course they will please the MAGAts. Just look at how fast “back the blue” went down the crapper on January 6.

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  9. KM says:

    @Mikey:
    I mean publicly go against them, not just the whole pick one side when both are your “issues”. They’ve been dancing around it with complaints about trans folks in the military and getting to girly but this would require them having to tell folk not to enlist or they’ll get that 5G chip in the brain.

    It would have to be explicit in a way they don’t like to do. Join the military and you’ll get the evil shot we’ve been bitching about for a year now. Do we want you to join the military and be All You Can Be? Why aren’t the soldiers end up sterilized or magnetized or brainwashed by 5G…… welllllll…… ummm you see……

    Make them square the circle. Military bases are HUGE employers and part of the economy in red states. They’re a way of out poverty or just plain out of town for many so preaching Bad Military Ruining MAGA fun would have consequences for local areas that will end up at their doorstep. MTG might not care but DeSantis will notice when it starts affecting bottom lines.

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  10. KM says:

    @KM:
    Uggh, missing edit….

    It also would mean they’d need to weigh in on trying to get a discharge for existing troops who don’t want to comply….. and there will be a lot of them since MAGA and QAnon’s weaseled its way into the ranks.

    Are they gonna advocate abandoning your post to avoid the shot? Resist orders and probably the MPs when if they come for you? Screwing over your bennies by risking a Other than Honorable or Bad Conduct Discharge? Sitting government officials telling military members to resist orders or try to leave the service rather then comply is going a LOT further than just tossing the cause under the bus when needed.

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  11. SKI says:

    I would go a step further and require vaccination for all Federal employees and contractors as a condition of employment. That, however, might require a change in the law or expedited full-approval status for the vaccines.

    As Scott alluded to: FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report

  12. Andy says:

    Honestly, I don’t know what’s taken so long to consider a Presidential waiver for military inoculation. It’s in Title 10, plain as day, and has always been an option. It ain’t rocket science and it could have been done many months ago.

    But if the vaccine will really be fully approved as soon as labor day, that will really open the door to federal mandates, including the civilian federal workforce. Let’s hope the FDA has its shit together.

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  13. JKB says:

    Even though the young, healthy folks who make up the lion’s share of the force are likely to recover, constantly having people down for 10 to 14 days while they quarantine is unacceptable when a vaccine is available.

    Of course, vaccines won’t affect the need to quarantine under the current panic. Those vaccinated can develop COVID and they can shed the virus. So the vaccine doesn’t alter the need to quarantine if exposed. But it is good to see the DoD is willing to toss aside the Nuremberg Code, which established informed consent.

    Now the real question is mandating vaccines with still unquantified long term impacts, especially on female fertility, for those who have immunity from prior natural immunity. Several studies are out showing those breakthrough or reinfections, that with natural immunity have far less viral load than those who took Moderna, and both have less than those who too Pfizer, and all have less viral load than someone who has not been vaccinated or had a prior infection. This will certainly be a challenge to My Body, My Choice since the official line is to force a less effective drug into natural immunity people’s bodies.

    One finding of this study is that there appears to be a hierarchy in infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2 infections, where primary infections in unvaccinated persons are most infectious, followed by BNT162b2 breakthrough infections, mRNA-1273 breakthrough infections, and finally reinfections in unvaccinated persons. Strikingly, this hierarchy is the mirror image of the hierarchy observed in the efficacy against acquisition of infection. In our earlier studies on these national cohorts in Qatar, we found that those vaccinated with BNT162b2 had (relatively) the lowest protection against acquisition of infection (at 75% against the B.1.351 (Beta) variant4,11 that dominated incidence since the onset of vaccination19,20), while protection against acquisition of infection was considerably higher among those vaccinated with mRNA-12735 and those with a prior infection

  14. Mikey says:

    @JKB:

    But it is good to see the DoD is willing to toss aside the Nuremberg Code

    Tell me you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about without telling me you’re an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

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  15. Barry says:

    @JKB: “This will certainly be a challenge to My Body, My Choice since the official line is to force a less effective drug into natural immunity people’s bodies.”

    Do you think that saying magic words means squat?
    Also, everything that we know about COVID is that the shot is better than natural immunity, whether or not you’ve been infected.

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  16. KM says:

    @JKB:

    Now the real question is mandating vaccines with still unquantified long term impacts, especially on female fertility, for those who have immunity from prior natural immunity.

    And why exactly would you think there’s an effect on female fertility if long term concerns are still unquantified? If there’s no evidence, why do you think it’s a problem when it’s not for any other vaccine?

    It’s almost like y’all are just full of shit and demanding to prove an arbitrary negative…..

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  17. Kathy says:

    May I suggest to James and Steven a permanent ban on anti-vaxxers?

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  18. inhumans99 says:

    @Kathy:

    Naw, let JKB post. Honestly, something as basic as knowing how the other side thinks is all that may be needed to prevent us from turning into a country run by Donald Trump and DeSantis in the future. As long as folks like Trump and DeSantis cannot do everything they want to do under the cloak of night/secrecy, it keeps America from completely going off the rails.

    It makes me optimistic for our future whenever DeSantis snaps at a reporter, because in other countries, now and in the past, if a strongman/woman and his/her henchmen/women was annoyed by a question from a reporter this individual might end up “disappeared.” DeSantis does not have this power and he knows it. I forget what class I was in but I ended up learning about a brief but nasty Government takeover by I believe the military in Argentina (I just googled, the Coup/Dirty War that led to the disappeared in Argentina) and to this day questions linger as to what happened to certain individuals who were picked up by the Government officials/the instigators of the Coup, because they were never heard from again. Now that is chilling, and we are not even remotely close to that situation, despite how depressing Politics can be at times.

    Would DeSantis and Trump love to disappear folks like AOC, sure, but the fact that we can still easily shine some sunlight on the baser desires of certain GOP members means I can still sleep easy tonight.

    Sigh, folks, sorry for the thread drift. To close out more on topic of this thread, my dad is a Veteran and I bet he would have no issues with the mandate that the troops get the shot if I asked him how he might feel about such a mandate if a pandemic like Covid happened when he was still in uniform.

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  19. Lounsbury says:

    @Mikey: Troll. An actual troll. Not merely someone who disagrees with Lefties here.

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  20. Jax says:

    I, personally, find it a little creepy that JKB is constantly posting about theoretical female infertility and completely ignores proven cases of COVID-caused erectile dysfunction. Have you no sense of self-preservation, man?!

    3
  21. Kathy says:

    @Jax:

    You do not believe the delusions of the God Emperor Fuhrer trump that COVID is just the flu?

    1
  22. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Joyner
    An article from task and purpose states that only 21% of Marine Corps Reservists are fully vaccinated (https://taskandpurpose.com/news/military-mandatory-covid-19-vaccines-troops/). I’m not sure if the Leadrers in Washington and Quantico are really in touch with the operating forces. HQ USMC and other Leaders up there quickly push information about vaccines, but I’m not sure if they pull much information from the operating forces. Why aren’t Corporals and Privates getting vaccinated? Is it that the junior warfighters don’t trust the leadership? Without understanding the answer to these questions, I posit you might lose the Marine Corps Reserves – or at least a very large percentage of them. What happens if the remaining 79% of the reservists say “no thank you?” Will they be chained and vaccinated against their will? Threatened with an OTH? I think a lot of Reservists wouldn’t mind separating. The preponderance have stable civilian careers and haven’t been in a gunfight in an eon – the allure of the reserves is fading without battles to be fought. I commonly hear the phrase “you can vaccinate dees n*ts!” in my unit.

    Good luck with your mandating of vaccines. Should be interesting to see how it goes.

  23. Matt says:

    @Mikey: ahh yes, just accept it. The government will protect you.

  24. de stijl says:

    Per a friend a long time back, you had to either prove or get inoculated from a fairly long menu of communicable diseases. Plus have been to to the dentist within the last 6 months.

    All just to enlist. Proof of vaccination / inoculation was required to enlist.

    These preventive measures are de rigueur for peace-time voluntary enlistment. Protects the whole against random flare-ups of measles, whatever.

    You force a bunch of random folks into one small living area and one unvaccinated person can cause systemic havoc.

    Orders are orders and your ability to to say “no” is extremely circumscribed by design. You can, but then you are told to leave forthwith.