'A matter of life and death': Army says active duty soldiers must be vaccinated by Dec. 15

Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 1, 2021. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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All active duty soldiers are expected to be vaccinated by Dec. 15, the U.S. Army said Tuesday.

“This is quite literally a matter of life and death for our Soldiers, their families and the communities in which we live,” Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, the Army's surgeon general, said in a statement. “Case counts and deaths continue to be concerning as the Delta variant spreads, which makes protecting the force through mandatory vaccination a health and readiness priority for the total Army.”

Reserve and National Guard units are expected to be fully vaccinated by June 30, 2022. There are 485,000 active duty service members in the Army, 189,500 in the Reserve and 336,000 in the National Guard.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a memorandum in August directing mandatory Covid vaccinations for service members using only Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine was given full FDA approval in August.

Lloyd directed the secretaries of the different branches of the Armed Forces to "impose ambitious timelines for implementation and to report regularly on vaccination completion using established systems for other mandatory vaccine reporting."

The Army said in the statement that service members who refuse the vaccine will first be counseled by their superiors. But if service members are not granted an exemption for legitimate medical, religious or administrative reasons and continue to not comply with the mandate, they could be discharged or disciplined, the statement said.

President Joe Biden has begun to use federal directives to mandate vaccinations in the American workforce. His recent executive order mandating vaccines for private-sector employees, health care workers and federal contractors targets an estimated 100 million workers. In early August, the president also gave his support for mandatory vaccinations in the U.S. military.

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