Pentagon Advises Booster Shots as COVID Cases Surge over Holidays

·2 min read

The Department of Defense has recommended COVID-19 booster shots for anyone who is eligible as the latest variant of the disease has swept across the U.S., sidelined a Navy ship and infected staff members.

The latest guidance published Tuesday says those at least 18 years old who have completed an initial vaccination should consider the additional shot -- though, for now, it is not mandatory. That means all service members, civilian workers and dependents, according to the memo signed by Gil Cisneros, the under secretary of personnel and readiness.

The vast majority of troops are now vaccinated against the coronavirus following an order by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in August. Nearly 1.6 million are fully vaccinated with the required one or two shots of approved vaccines, according to the latest figures published by the department.

But the highly contagious Omicron variant and persistent Delta variant have pushed average daily cases in the U.S. over 243,000, which is a 105% increase over the past two weeks, according to detailed tracking by The New York Times.

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The Pentagon has not released statistics on booster shots, but signs of the latest pandemic wave within the military have cropped up in the past week.

The littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee is sidelined in Guantanamo Bay, because 25% of the crew, about two dozen sailors, is infected. The Navy said the entire crew was fully vaccinated, according to the Associated Press, but that did not save the ship from becoming the first confined to port this year due to the pandemic.

The USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier was quarantined in Guam for nearly two months in 2020 after 1,271 sailors contracted COVID-19. The carrier outbreak occurred long before coronavirus vaccines were available and troops were required to be inoculated.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon building ratcheted up pandemic precautions on Tuesday due to increased cases. Seven staff members traveling with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks earlier this month tested positive, the department confirmed last week.

The building, one of the largest office buildings in the world, will be closed to unofficial visitors through the end of January, and supervisors are to keep occupancy rates at 40% while letting as many people as possible work from home.

"DoD personnel are encouraged to consider using an FDA-approved COVID-19 home test kit upon return from the Federal holiday period prior to returning to the workplace," according to the announcement on Tuesday.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

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