Pentagon says it will start talks on making COVID-19 vaccine mandatory

Pentagon says it will start talks on making COVID-19 vaccine mandatory

The Pentagon said Thursday it will begin internal talks on making the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for military personnel, after President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE called on defense leaders to examine "how and when" to mandate the vaccine for U.S. troops.

“Secretary Austin will also begin consulting our medical professionals, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to determine how and when to make recommendations to the President with respect to adding the COVID-19 vaccines to the full list of requirements for military personnel,” deputy Pentagon press secretary Jamal Brown said in a statement Thursday evening.

The “how and when” language is similar to the language used in a White House fact sheet released earlier Thursday that noted Biden would be asking the Defense Department when COVID-19 vaccines would be required for the military.

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"Since many vaccinations are required for active-duty military today, I’m asking the Defense Department to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 to the list of vaccinations our armed forces must get," Biden said during a speech at the White House.

"Our men and women in uniform who protect this country from grave threats should be protected as much as possible from getting COVID-19," he added.

Earlier this month, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said conversations about making the vaccine mandatory for military personnel would begin after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moves the vaccine from emergency authorization to full approval.

“If these vaccines are approved by the FDA, then the secretary will certainly talk to the services and health care professionals here at the department to determine what the best options are going forward, which could include making them mandatory,” Kirby said.

Along with discussions beginning about mandating the vaccine, the statement released Thursday said that all military personnel will have to attest to their vaccine status and will be subject to mandatory mask use and other restrictions if they are unvaccinated or refuse to get the vaccine.

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“In accordance with the guidance the President issued today, all military and civilian DoD personnel will be asked to attest to their vaccination status. Personnel unable or unwilling to do that will be required to wear a mask, physically distance, comply with a regular testing requirement and be subject to official travel restrictions,” Brown stated.

The crackdown on vaccines comes as the delta variant is causing cases to rise across the country and as certain areas around the country move to require masks indoors again, even for vaccinated individuals. 

“COVID-19 remains a significant and evolving threat to our nation’s security. The rise of the Delta variant and the speed with which it transmits make these additional protective efforts all the more vital to protecting our force and the nation we defend,” Brown said.