Pentagon to Mandate COVID Vaccine as Military Deaths From Virus Increase By One-Third

The Pentagon announced Monday that it will issue a mandate for service members to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as the number of military deaths from the virus jumped by more than one-third over the past month, the Associated Press reported.

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 are increasing in the military as members are often close to each other and risk greater spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. Over the past month, the number of service-member deaths attributed to the virus increased from 25 to 34.

The decision to issue the mandate comes as the Pfizer vaccine has received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

U.S. Military COVID-19 Vaccinations
The Pentagon announced Monday that it will issue a mandate for service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine now that the Pfizer vaccine has received FDA approval. Above, a U.S. Army soldier from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, immunizes Max Pietro with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at the Miami Dade College North Campus on March 10, 2021, in North Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is making good on his vow earlier this month to require the shots once the FDA approved the vaccine. He said guidance is being developed and a timeline will be provided in the coming days.

Austin's decision reflects similar moves by governments and companies around the world, as nations struggle with the Delta variant that has sent U.S. cases surging to heights not seen since last winter.

In a memo August 9, Austin said he'd seek the president's approval to make the vaccine mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon FDA licensure "whichever comes first." The Pentagon has said that the military has enough vaccines to meet the requirements.

Kirby said the steps Monday to make the vaccine mandatory are an effort to ensure the safety of service members. Concerns about the virus are especially acute in the military, where service members live and work closely together in barracks and on ships, increasing the risks of rapid spreading. Any large virus outbreak in the military could affect America's ability to defend itself in any security crisis.

In a message to the force earlier this month, General Mark Milley said medical professionals recommend the vaccine, and that getting the shot is key to maintaining a military that is prepared to defend the nation. At the bottom of his message, Milley scrawled a handwritten note: "Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a key force protection and readiness issue."

As of August 18, more than 1 million service members were fully vaccinated and nearly 245,000 more had received at least one shot, according to the Defense Department. Just over half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated with one of the country's three options, from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.

Kirby said the Pentagon decision is only for the Pfizer vaccine.

Moderna has also applied to the FDA for full approval of its vaccine. J&J said it hopes to do so later this year.

John Kirby vaccine mandate
The Pentagon announced that all service members will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine now that the Pfizer vaccine has received FDA approval. Above, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby and U.S. Army Major General William Taylor, Joint Staff Operations, listen to a reporter's question about Afghanistan during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on August 23, 2021. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo