The Army has set a June 30, 2022, deadline for all its service members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with active-duty troops required to receive the shot even sooner, according to new guidance released Tuesday.
All Army active-duty troops are required to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15, while National Guard and Reserve members have until the later date, the service said in a statement.
“This is quite literally a matter of life and death for our Soldiers, their families and the communities in which we live,” Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle said in the release. “Case counts and deaths continue to be concerning as the Delta variant spreads, which makes protecting the force through mandatory vaccination a health and readiness priority for the total Army.”
The new guidance follows Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinTop State Dept. official overseeing 'Havana syndrome' response leaving post Pentagon 'aware' of reports Wisconsin military base's struggle to feed, heat Afghan refugees Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks MORE’s order in late August for all service members to “immediately begin” receiving the COVID-19 vaccine after the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s version of the shot. The immunization had previously been available under emergency-use authorization, preventing the Pentagon from mandating it.
Austin did not give a timeline for when service members are required to get the shot, instead directing service branch secretaries to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation.”
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro on Aug. 30 issued a message to the force giving active-duty sailors and Marines 90 days to be fully vaccinated and Reservists 120 days. That gives those military members a Nov. 28 and Dec. 28 deadline, respectively.
The Air Force, meanwhile, has required its active-duty personnel to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 2 and all Air National Guard and Reserve members to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 2.
Still, some service members have remained reluctant to get the shot, which the Army addresses in its new guidance.
Soldiers who refuse the vaccine will first be counseled by their chain of command and medical providers, but “continued failure to comply could result in administrative or non-judicial punishment – to include relief of duties or discharge.”
Soldiers also have the ability to request an exemption from receiving the vaccine — should they have a legitimate medical, religious or administrative reason — and those who have pending requests will not be subject to “adverse actions” until the exemption is fully processed.
The service also stressed that prior to any punishment, service members would be notified of it and once again “counseled and provided the opportunity to be vaccinated before they would become subject to removal from their positions by a general officer.”
The new guidance comes after the military experienced its deadliest month related to the coronavirus, with the illness claiming the lives of 11 service members in August, the most in that timespan since the pandemic began. A total 43 service members have died from COVID-19, according to the Pentagon's latest numbers.