Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has concerns about the rate of refusal in the military's voluntary COVID-19 vaccine program, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
The actual rate at which service members were refusing to take the vaccine was not known, per the Washington Examiner.
Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, a surgeon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, previously said the military's refusal rate roughly mirrored that in society overall.
"Certainly it's a concern of the secretary, but he's also mindful that it's a voluntary program," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a Thursday briefing.
Kirby declined to say if Austin had requested hard data on the rate at which military members, including those deploying and performing critical national security tasks, were refusing the shot.
"We don't have a good firm number on that," Kirby said. "There's no central tracking system to keep track of those who are either refusing the vaccine, or, in some cases, deferring their decision on the vaccine."
The Department of Defense's voluntary program operates under an FDA emergency authorization. Service members cannot be required to get inoculated until the vaccine is fully FDA approved.
Kirby said nearly 967,000 doses had been delivered to military treatment facilities, and 800,135 vaccinations — roughly 589,000 first doses, 211,000 second doses — had been administered.
The 82 percent use rate was an improvement from two weeks ago, when hundreds of thousands of the DOD's doses went unused.
Kirby said Austin encouraged service members to read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website, the Defense Department's website, and consult their physicians.
According to the Examiner, more than 232,000 department employees, service members, and their families had been sickened by the coronavirus through Wednesday. Among service members on active duty, more than 148,000 had been sickened, 1,359 remained hospitalized, and 21 had died.
Austin himself was vaccinated to demonstrate safety and effectiveness.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley recently participated in a virtual town hall for some military families. First lady Jill Biden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci also participated.
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