Austin told commanders to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation” as the COVID vaccine is added to the list of inoculations that US troops receive as part of their service.
“To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Austin wrote in the memo announcing the directive. “After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the President, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease … is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people.”
More than 800,000 military members have yet to be vaccinated for COVID, according to the Pentagon.
The troops will be able to get their shots at bases around the world, and the Pentagon said it has enough vaccine to meet demand.
The memo noted that service members can also get any of the other coronavirus vaccines – Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – on their own.
Austin said that troops who have had a case of coronavirus are not considered fully vaccinated.
“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.
According to the Pentagon, there are more than 1.3 million troops on active duty and close to 800,000 in the Guard and Reserve.
And, as of Aug. 18, more than 1 million active duty, Guard and Reserve service members were fully vaccinated and nearly 245,000 more had received at least one shot.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that the military would soon be issuing guidance on the mandatory vaccines after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine.
“The health of a force is as always — military or civilian employees, families and communities — a top priority. So it’s important to remind everyone that these efforts ensure the safety of our service members and promote the readiness of our force, not to mention the health and safety of the communities around the country in which we live,” Kirby said at Monday’s Afghanistan briefing.