Austin mandates COVID vaccine for military

The defense secretary has ordered military departments to immediately begin mandatory vaccination programs with FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines.

DOD temperature check (Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Marquis Whitehead)

Military service members and reservists are now required to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered military department secretaries to "immediately" begin full vaccination of active duty service members, including the Reserve and National Guard, according to an Aug. 24 memo.

While no timeline was given, the memo details that full vaccination is required and notes that previous COVID-19 infection doesn't count as full vaccination, according to the document.

"Service members are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after receiving a single dose of a one-dose vaccine," Austin wrote. "Those with previous COVID-19 infection are not considered fully vaccinated."

For unvaccinated personnel, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, just approved by the Food and Drug Administration, will be delivered under the mandate. However, personnel can voluntarily elect the one-dose Johnson & Johnson or the two-shot Moderna-produced vaccines, which are still operating under FDA emergency use authorizations. Personnel who have already obtained a Moderna or J&J jab are considered vaccinated for the purposes of the order.

The memo pertains to "all members of the Armed Forces under DoD authority on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19."

So far no guidance has been issued regarding COVID-19 vaccine mandates for DOD contractors or civilian personnel. When asked about a timeline or likelihood of such guidance coming out, a DOD spokesperson told FCW "no additional guidance for civilian and contractor personnel has been issued" beyond Austin's Aug. 9 memo, which encouraged all DOD personnel and contractors to get vaccinated.

Travel restrictions have also been eased for more than 80% of DOD installations, according to a memo dated Aug. 23. So far, 190 of 230 installations have lifted travel restrictions, but of those, four reinstated travel restrictions this week. No installations lifted travel restrictions this week, according to the memo, which was publicly released Aug. 25.