The Pentagon announced Monday that it would make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for its 1.3 million active-duty service members.
“We’re going to move forward making that vaccine mandatory,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a briefing. “We’re preparing the guidance to the force right now. The actual completion date of it — in other words, how fast we want to see it done — we’re working through that guidance right now.”
The Pentagon made the announcement after the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval of the Pfizer vaccine earlier in the day for all people 16 and up. The vaccine had previously been made available by a mechanism known as emergency use authorization.
More than 200 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have already been used in the U.S., after the emergency approval was granted in December. The number of vaccinations administered per day has rebounded over concerns about the Delta variant, which has filled hospitals in many areas of the country and pushed up the daily death toll.
“The public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he would request the vaccine mandate by mid-September. President Biden had previously announced that all federal employees would either need to get the vaccine or be subject to regular testing.
Kirby said earlier this month that religious exemptions would be considered, saying, “There is a religious exemption possibility for any mandatory vaccine, and there’s a process that we go through to counsel the individual both from a medical and from a command perspective about using a religious exemption.”
The FDA’s approval of the vaccine is likely to lead to more mandates. WNYC reported Monday morning that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was set to announce a vaccine mandate for all school staff without a testing alternative, requiring proof of a first dose by Sept. 27.
Some organizations and local governments had previously said that a mandate for employees would come into effect once a vaccine was formally approved. In June, the city of San Francisco announced that its roughly 35,000 employees would have 10 weeks to be vaccinated following full FDA approval.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that 200 employees pushed back against the requirement with “conspiracy-tinged letters.” A union representing the city’s sheriff’s deputies said that a number of its members would retire early or quit if forced to get the vaccine.
Pasadena, Calif., likewise announced last month that all of its more than 2,000 employees would need to be vaccinated once formal approval was given by the FDA.
“When a police officer arrives at your home, a firefighter arrives at your home because you need our assistance, you don’t get to choose if we send the vaccinated ones or the nonvaccinated ones,” City Manager Steve Mermell said at a July City Council meeting. “The public has to come into contact with city employees. We want the city employees to be healthy, we want the public not to get ill.”
According to a recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll, 51 percent of unvaccinated Americans who don’t trust the vaccines cited the lack of full FDA approval as a reason. That same survey found that 24 percent of the unvaccinated said they would be “much” or “somewhat” more likely to get vaccinated once the FDA approved it.
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