Kirby said he doesn’t want to “get ahead” of the Food and Drug Administration, since the organization has yet to approve the COVID vaccines as mandatory. U.S. COVID-19 vaccine options are currently being used under Emergency Use Authorization, which makes them voluntary vaccines.
If the FDA does fully approve the vaccines, however, the Department of Defense will weigh their options moving forward. This will include the potential of forced vaccinations for military personnel, Kirby said.
As of July 6, almost 69% of Department of Defense personnel had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Kirby described that as “not bad.”
In the meantime, Kirby said the department will keep encouraging its employees and their families to get vaccinated.
“They’re safe, they’re effective, and it’s really the best incentive to protect you, your families, and your teammates,” he said.
On July 2, the Army Times reported that the U.S. Army is directing commands to prepare to administer mandatory COVID-19 vaccines beginning Sept. 1, pending their expected full approval by the FDA. The directive came by executive order from the Department of the Army Headquarters.
“Commanders will continue COVID-19 vaccination operations and prepare for a directive to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for service members [on or around] 01 September 2021, pending full FDA licensure,” the order stated. “Commands will be prepared to provide a backbrief on service member vaccination status and way ahead for completion once the vaccine is mandated.”
In May, Pfizer’s manufacturers requested full approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the FDA, and Moderna’s manufacturer sought similar approval on June 1.
The FDA has yet to respond to the requests.
In an interview with NBC’s Today Show on April 30, President Joe Biden said he would leave it up to the Defense Department to decide whether COVID-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for troops following their full approval by the FDA. He said it was a “tough call” whether the vaccines should be mandatory.
As of July 14, there have been 304,773 infected service members, leading to 357 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the U.S. Department of Defense COVID-19 response page.
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