A new mandate from the Pentagon will require all active duty service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by mid-September, or immediately upon final Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, whichever comes first.

In a memo released today, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the deadline could be pushed up if infection rates continue to rise.

“We will also be keeping a close eye on infection rates – which are on the rise now due to the Delta variant – and the impact these rates might have on our readiness,” Sec. Austin said. “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if I feel the need to do so. To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.”

President Biden praised Sec. Austin’s decision.

“I strongly support Secretary Austin’s message to the Force today on the Department of Defense’s plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September,” the president said in a statement.

“Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible … 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.”

Sec. Austin said the military services will use the next few weeks to determine how many vaccines they will need, and how the mandate will be implemented. That schedule also buys the Pentagon time for the FDA to give final approval to the Pfizer vaccine. Should Sept. 15 come without final approval, the Defense Department would need a waiver from President Biden to make the shots mandatory.

Currently, at least 74 percent of active duty personnel are partially vaccinated and 65 percent are fully vaccinated.

The announcement comes after the Department of Defense said on July 29 that all military members and civilian personnel will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, or face regular testing and social distancing requirements. Today’s announcement removes the option of regular testing and social distancing as an alternative to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine after the mandate goes into effect.

Until the vaccine mandate goes into effect, Sec. Austin said the Pentagon will continue to comply with executive orders mandating additional restrictions on unvaccinated personnel, including mask wearing, social distancing, and travel limits.

Read More About
More Topics
Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.