Pentagon Looking at Booster Mandate for Military, Over 96 Percent Have At Least 1 Shot

The Pentagon is looking to mandate booster shots for military personnel.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday that they are in "active talks" to enact a mandate that would require members of the U.S. military branches to get vaccine booster shots against COVID-19. He also said that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and himself want civilians "if they can and if they qualify, to get the booster."

Around 96.4 percent of all active-duty military are at least partially vaccinated. This percentage includes members of the National Guard and Reserves. Around 74 percent of the military force is fully vaccinated. Although the full inoculation period has already passed for some branches, the Army Guard still has until June to get fully vaccinated. There are no current plans to adjust this deadline.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended fully-vaccinated adults receive a booster shot against COVID-19. This recommendation received further attention after the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was detected in the U.S.

Around 257,000 military members have contracted COVID-19, with 79 members dying from the virus.

Fort Drum
U.S. Army soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division arrive home from a 9-month deployment in Afghanistan on Dec. 8, 2020 in Fort Drum, New York. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The defense department in August announced that it would begin requiring all members of the military — including National Guard and Reserves — to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The military services sent out specific guidelines on the mandate, set their own deadlines and laid out the repercussions for those who refused and were not granted a medical, religious or administrative exemption.

Thousands still have not gotten the vaccine or are seeking an exemption, which involves a lengthy process including meetings with commanders, chaplains and medical personnel.

Kirby said the numbers are trending in the right direction, but "we know there's more work to do."

So far none of the services have said that any service members have been forced out due to their refusal to get the shots, although an unknown number have voluntarily retired or left the service over the matter since the mandate was put in place.

"The secretary's expectation is 100% vaccination, that's what he wants to see," Kirby said.

He added that Austin also expects the services to implement the mandate in a compassionate and thoughtful way and not "immediately go to some sort of punitive or administrative action." The services, he said, must ensure that troops understand the ramifications of the decision to refuse the vaccine, as well as the ramifications to their health and to their military unit's readiness.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

John Kirby
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta