President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that all federal workers not vaccinated against COVID-19 will be subject to masking, social distancing and mandatory testing. He also called on the Pentagon to look into adding the vaccine to the list of required inoculations for service members.
Biden has stayed largely mum on the topic of mandatory troop vaccinations since he took office in January. The Defense Department has faced endless questions as to why the COVID-19 shot has been voluntary, despite a litany of other required vaccines.
In short, because of the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization, Pentagon leadership has thought better of forcing it, though Biden’s order could supersede that policy.
As the delta variant sends the country back into mask mandates and indoor gathering restrictions, stronger vaccine rules are now on the table.
“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say if ‘I’d just got the vaccine,’” Biden said Thursday. “This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”
The Pentagon did not have an immediate response to Biden’s announcement. Biden did not specify whether he would be open to waiting for full FDA approval before enacting a vaccine mandate.
DoD did, on Wednesday, reinstate an indoor mask mandate for areas of the country designated “substantial” or “high” for COVID-19 transmission, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
Whether service members will be required to get vaccinated, they are considered federal workers for the purposes of the new prevention protocol. That would mean weekly testing, in addition to so-called sentinel testing the military put in place in spring 2020, for troops preparing to deploy, redeploy or travel on orders.
About 54 percent of active and reserve troops have received at least one dose of a vaccine, per DoD’s most recently posted numbers.
Each of the services has undertaken their own campaigns to convince members to get vaccinated, to varying affect. While the active-duty Navy reported 77 percent vaccination in late June, the Marine Corps was far behind at 58 percent.
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