The Pentagon plans to seek authorization to add COVID-19 shots to the list of mandatory vaccinations for active-duty troops as soon as this week.
President Joe Biden had instructed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to "look into how and when" the Pentagon can mandate COVID-19 immunization, and Austin's "inclination is toward making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory," a defense official told CNN on Wednesday.
The federal Food and Drug Administration has granted only emergency use authorization (EUA) for the three COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer, Modern, and Johnson & Johnson — so Austin will need a presidential waiver to require it before it is fully approved by the FDA.
Austin is expected to "seek authorization to make it mandatory," the defense official said.
The Pentagon had intended to wait for full FDA approval, but the White House is encouraging vaccination to stem the tide of COVID-19 infections amid the rise of the delta variant.
A Justice Department memo last month outlined the presidential waiver as a path to mandate that active-duty troops get the EUA-only vaccinations.
"Because DOD has informed us that it understandably does not want to convey inaccurate or confusing information to service members — that is, telling them that they have the 'option' to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine if they effectively lack such an option because of a military order — DOD should seek a presidential waiver before it imposes a vaccination requirement."
Austin vowed to "get after it" quickly while on a trip to the Philippines last week.
"We won't let grass grow under our feet," Austin said, according to CNN. "The president directed us to do something, and we'll get after it."
Among the first wave of mandatory vaccinations will be troops scheduled for deployment, officials told CNN.
Defense Department civilian employees will already be under the federal worker vaccination mandate, while National Guard members will be required to take the vaccine only if they are activated by federal and not state officials, the report added.
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