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Pentagon chief underscores safety of COVID-19 vaccine amid some service members' refusal

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinSecret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations Overnight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests MORE on Wednesday released a video stressing the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine following last week’s revelation that nearly a third of service members who have been offered the shot have refused to take it.

In the video, addressed to the U.S. military workforce, Austin encourages service members and personnel to seek out information on the vaccine from government websites including those of the CDC and the Defense Department. 

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“When you do, you’ll see that these vaccines have undergone intensive safety monitoring. You’ll also see that they are safe and they are effective. And you’ll see that millions of your fellow citizens have already taken them with little to no side effects,” Austin said.

Austin also notes that he received the vaccine after consulting with his doctor and “believed it was the right thing to do,” for his health and “ability to do the job and to contribute to our readiness.” 

“I encourage you to have that discussion with your primary care physician about taking the vaccine. And if you believe, as I did, that it’s the right thing for you, I hope that you’ll consider accepting it when it’s offered to you.”

The video comes exactly a week after Joint Staff Vice Director of operations Maj. Gen Jeff Taliaferro told House Armed Service Committee lawmakers that “very early data” found that up to two-thirds of service members accepted the vaccine when offered. 

The Pentagon later stressed that it did not know how many service members had refused the vaccine as it doesn't have a central system in place to track the information due to the vaccine being voluntary. It also noted that officials at the House hearing were citing broad data on vaccine acceptance rates that “mirror” trends in American society, and that the officials went on to say that it is not data that they are specifically following.

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The Pentagon’s top spokesperson John Kirby said service members could refuse or put off the vaccine for a variety of reasons including personal choice related to one’s medical history or unease with shot, waiting to see how others react to the vaccine or simply missing their appointment. 

But the number of troops declining the vaccine is cause for concern as forces usually live, work and fight closely together in situations where social distancing is not always possible.

Thousands of service members are also being sent to distribute and administer shots at FEMA sites around the country.  

Austin’s video is the latest message in the Pentagon’s campaign for the vaccine.

Prior to this, senior defense officials have participated in town halls, issued statements to the force, distributed fact sheets, and, as demonstrated in Austin’s video, shown images of service members being vaccinated.