- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday pushed U.S. troops to accept the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s offered to them, the latest effort by the Pentagon to combat a stubbornly high rate of refusal within the armed forces.

Pentagon officials said last week that roughly one-third of troops have refused the shot, frustrating officials who are eager to vaccinate as much of the fighting force as possible. Mr. Austin‘s blunt message to the troops on Wednesday was designed to push back against fears in the ranks that the vaccines may not be safe, or that they may not have undergone enough testing.

He encouraged troops to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and read about the vaccines before making a decision.

“And when you do, you’ll see that these vaccines have undergone intensive safety monitoring. You’ll see that they are safe, and they are effective. And you’ll see that millions of your fellow citizens have already taken them with little to no side effects,” Mr. Austin said. 

“You know, I’ve taken it myself. After talking with my doctor, I believed it was the right thing to do — not only for my health, but also for my ability to do the job and to contribute to our readiness,” he said.

Pentagon officials have said that they keep reliable data only for the troops who have gotten the shot, not for those who have refused it, meaning it’s exceedingly difficult to know exactly why so many service members are choosing against the vaccine. With the Defense Department unable to force the vaccine on all troops, Mr. Austin instead prodded troops to talk to their doctors.

“And if you believe, as I did, that it’s the right thing for you, I hope that you’ll consider accepting it when it’s offered to you,” he said. 

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