U.S. Military to Require COVID-19 Vaccines for Service Members

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Military soldier getting COVID-19 vaccine

Service members in the U.S. Armed Forces will be required to get vaccinated against the coronavirus by mid-September under a plan recently announced by the Pentagon.

"To defend this nation, we need a healthy and ready force," said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in an Aug. 9 memo. "I strongly encourage all [Department of Defense] military and civilian personnel—as well as contractor personnel—to get vaccinated now and for military service members to not wait for the mandate."

We've rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets on the news.

Allowing Time for FDA Full Approval

Austin's plan allows time for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to fully approve a COVID-19 vaccine. All of the FDA authorized vaccines are currently approved under emergency use authorization, but Pfizer's vaccine may be fully licensed by early September. The Pentagon will need a waiver from President Joe Biden to mandate vaccines prior to their full approval. 

Austin said he has worked closely with military leaders, medical professionals and the White House COVID-19 Task Force. "I want you to know that I will seek the president's approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September or immediately upon the [FDA] licensure, whichever comes first."

(Associated Press)

Biden Supports Plan

Biden said he strongly supports Austin's plan. "Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible," Biden said in a statement. "I am proud that our military women and men will continue to help lead the charge in the fight against this pandemic, as they so often do, by setting the example of keeping their fellow Americans safe."

(The White House)

Mandate Applies to National Guard

The Pentagon's plan will apply to reservists in the National Guard, with some exceptions. "All National Guard service members, other than those in state active duty, will be subject to any mandatory vaccination directive to the same extent as active component personnel," said National Guard Bureau spokesman Wayne Hall.

(Military.com)

Military Is Monitoring Infection Rates

Nearly 1.4 million service members are on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, which includes the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force and Coast Guard. Just over a million are fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Defense. Austin said military leaders will be monitoring infection rates, which are surging due to the COVID-19 delta variant. "I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the president if I feel the need to do so," he said.

(CNBC)

Consequences for Refusing to Comply

Military officials said they don't have information regarding the number of service members who have refused to get other required vaccines, such as anthrax, chicken pox and flu shots, but refusing to comply with the COVID-19 vaccination mandate may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Army guidance notes that if a soldier "fails to comply with a lawful order to receive a mandatory vaccine, and does not have an approved exemption, a commander may take appropriate disciplinary action."

(U.S. News & World Report)

Government, Large Companies Roll Out Stricter Vaccination Policies

In response to the spike in cases, the federal government and some state and local governments are requiring certain public employees, as well as those who work in health care and other high-risk settings, to show vaccination proof or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing, wear masks, and keep physically distant from other workers and visitors. Many large companies recently announced similar policies or said they plan to require employees to get inoculated. 

(SHRM Online)

Employers React to Workers Who Refuse Vaccination

As mandatory COVID-19 vaccines become more widespread, many employers are asking what they can do if workers refuse. Some employers are firing workers who won't take the vaccine, and others are requiring unvaccinated employees to submit to weekly testing and take other safety precautions.

(SHRM Online)

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Asking Vaccination Status

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

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