The Pentagon hopes to move “expeditiously” toward mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all U.S. service members, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday, pledging to consult with military doctors and to quickly develop a path forward.
Mr. Austin‘s pledge — which likely will prove unpopular with some rank-and-file service members — comes a day after President Biden issued a new directive that all federal employees and on-site contractors get coronavirus shots or face regular testing. The commander in chief also ordered the military to study “how and when” it will add the COVID-19 shots to its list of mandated vaccines.
Speaking to reporters while traveling in Asia, Mr. Austin said he‘ll begin working on the directive as soon as he returns to the U.S.
“I’ll go back and consult with my medical professionals … and we’ll outline the steps for the way ahead,” he said at a press conference in Manila. “We’ll move this expeditiously, if possible. You know, quite frankly, I’m inclined to move towards making sure that everybody is properly protected.”
“We’ll look at this with our medical professionals and the service secretaries, the chiefs, and they will outline that timeline. But we won’t let grass grow under our feet,” Mr. Austin said. “The president directed us to do something, and we’ll get after it.”
The military has struggled with convincing U.S. troops to get COVID-19 vaccinations voluntarily, though the numbers have been trending upward in recent months. As of June 30, nearly 70% of active-duty service members have gotten at least one dose, according to Defense Department health officials.
Amid rising case counts in many parts of the country, the Defense Department this week also reinstituted its mask mandate at military installations, including the sprawling Pentagon complex in Arlington, Virginia.