President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin plan to issue a vaccine mandate next month for all Department of Defense personnel—including all U.S. soldiers.
Austin announced Monday that he intends to seek approval for mandatory vaccination from Biden by either mid-September or when the Food and Drug Administration licenses the vaccine for full approval, whichever milestone comes first. The Pentagon chief said he came to the decision after consulting senior military leaders and the White House, and did so in an effort to help protect the armed forces.
"To defend this nation, we need a healthy and ready force," Austin said. "I have every confidence that service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill, and compassion."
Almost immediately after Austin’s statement, Biden told reporters he "strongly support[s] the move."
"Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible," Biden said. "Being vaccinated will enable our service members to stay healthy, to better protect their families, and to ensure that our force is ready to operate anywhere in the world." The vaccination rate within the armed forces—around 70 percent as of mid-July—hovers significantly above that of the general population. If the mandate is carried out, the Department of Defense would follow in the footsteps of other major government agencies, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, in requiring vaccination of employees in order to work.