Pregnant or breastfeeding women in the military will qualify for an exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, a move at odds with the Biden administration's messaging campaign to inoculate all Americans ages 12 and older.
Military guidelines exempt pregnant or breastfeeding troops from every vaccine requirement, except for the flu and tetanus shots. The Pfizer vaccine will not be added to the list, according to a Pentagon spokeswoman, which would allow servicewomen to opt out of the COVID-19 mandate upon request. The policy stems from the fact that federal regulators have yet to complete studies into the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy and safety for lactating and pregnant women.
The FDA did not sign off on Pfizer's proposed clinical trial on pregnant women until July 1—just weeks before the agency gave the pharmaceutical giant full approval. Pfizer has until 2025 to return results of the study to the agency.
"Everything that applies to previous vaccines applies to this one in terms of what people can request exemptions from," a Pentagon spokeswoman told the Washington Free Beacon. "We’re not creating a new standard of practice. This will be like any other required vaccine and again for exemptions this will be case by case vaccine by vaccine."
According to the U.S. Army’s Medical Readiness Procedures, a pregnant soldier "is exempt from all immunizations except influenza and tetanus-diphtheria and from exposure to all fetotoxic chemicals noted on the occupational history form." The Pentagon said military branches will follow existing guidance on granting exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Despite the Pentagon’s openness to exemptions, the Centers for Disease Control said on Aug. 11 that "people who are pregnant and breastfeeding" should receive the COVID-19 vaccination, citing animal studies that "found no safety concerns." The FDA has been more measured in its public remarks. The agency's final approval notice admitted there is "missing information" about the "risks" of taking the vaccine while pregnant or lactating.
Neither the White House nor the Centers for Disease Control responded to requests for comment.
The military’s mandate only applies to the Pfizer vaccine. Moderna has yet to receive full approval, with Johnson & Johnson saying it plans to apply for full approval later this year. The National Institutes of Health only began its clinical studies into administering the vaccine to pregnant women in June. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci said the "results of this study will fill gaps in our knowledge and help inform policy recommendations and policy personal decision-making on COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy."
The military is prepared to take aggressive steps to enforce the vaccine mandate among service members. The Free Beacon reported this month on a memo circulated by Marine Corps commanders, who said that those who refuse the Pfizer vaccination stand to lose their G.I. bill benefits, pensions, and tuition assistance. The memo did not make any mention of applicable religious or medical exemptions, including those for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sent a memo to all service branches after the FDA formally approved the vaccine in August. He called the shot "necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people." Austin said the military would accept exemptions for those with immune deficiencies such as HIV or "evidence of existing immunity" from those who already had COVID-19 and recovered. He did not mention pregnant women.
Pfizer did not respond to a request for comment.