House Dems Call on Biden to Make COVID Vaccine Mandatory in Military as a Third of Troops Deny Shot

House Democrats called on President Joe Biden to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for military service members after one-third of all soldiers had refused the shots.

California Congressman Jimmy Panetta led a group of seven Democrats that requested a waiver of informed consent, meaning permission from soldiers to be vaccinated, be issued in a letter sent to Biden on Wednesday. The group cited Pentagon figures that showed one-third of service members offered a vaccine had already refused to take it, while polls have also indicated a high level of resistance to being inoculated in the military. Unlike the general population, military members are obliged to take certain vaccines, although the COVID-19 shots have not yet been made mandatory.

"We write to respectfully request you issue a waiver of informed consent to ensure members of the armed forces receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the earlier opportunity," the representatives wrote. "Vaccinating every eligible service member will improve readiness and have an immediate and positive impact on the communities in which they serve."

"Recent media reports have shown overwhelming evidence that disinformation and vaccine skepticism are rampant within our own formations," they continued. "This is a critical threat to our national security and public health... Requiring DOD to obtain informed consent prior to vaccination is not only harmful to our national security, but contrary to the best interests of service members, their families, communities and colleagues."

The White House declined Newsweek's request for comment.

Democrats COVID-19 Vaccine Mandatory Military Joe Biden
U.S. Army soldiers prepare doses of COVID-19 vaccines at a mass vaccination site in North Miami, Florida on March 10, 2021. Joe Raedle/Getty

A copy of the letter was also sent to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Panetta is the son of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. The other House members who signed onto the letter, all Democrats, were Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas, Rep. Marilyn Strickland of Washington state, Rep. Sara Jacobs of California, Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa, Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut and Rep. James McGovern of Massachusetts. Panetta, Jacobs and Veasey all serve on the House Armed Services Committee.

Pentagon officials told members of Congress last month that a third of all service members that had been offered a vaccine had refused to take it. A poll conducted in December by military advocacy group Blue Star Families found that roughly half of all service members did not intend to receive a vaccine voluntarily.

However, polls of the general public have shown that hesitancy has lessened over the months that the vaccines have been available. A Pew Research Center poll released earlier this month showed that 69 percent of Americans had either received a vaccine or intended to do so, up from 60 percent in November.

Austin addressed vaccine hesitancy after touring a mass vaccination site in Los Angeles last month. He said that some of the reluctance came from people of color due to "some things that have happened in the past." Austin, who is Black, said he had personally been vaccinated and was working hard to "dispel rumors" about the vaccines in general, while noting that misinformation was key factor driving those who refuse to be vaccinated.

"It's really important that ... people have the facts, and we found that armed with the facts, they'll make the right decisions typically," Austin said. "I've taken the vaccine. I consider it to be safe. We've not seen very many side effects that are harmful."

"The greatest incentive to getting vaccinated is that it saves your life, and it saves the life of the folks that mean a lot to you," added Austin. "That, in and of itself, is very, very important."

Update 3/25, 4:07 p.m.: This article has been updated to note that the White House declined to comment.