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The Covid-19 Vaccine is Mandatory for Service Members Now. Here’s What You Need to Know.

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The Department of Defense has added Pfizer-BioNTech’s FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, to its long list of mandatory vaccine requirements for service members....

The Department of Defense has added Pfizer-BioNTech’s FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, to its long list of mandatory vaccine requirements for service members. In a Aug. 24 memorandum, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed military leaders to make sure their subordinates get vaccinated.  

“Our administration of safe, effective Covid-19 vaccines has produced admirable results to date, and I know the Department of Defense will come together to finish the job, with urgency, professionalism, and compassion,” Austin wrote.

The mandate comes about two weeks after Austin signaled his intent to make the vaccine mandatory. He made it official one day after the FDA approved Comirnaty,

“I therefore direct the Secretaries of the Military Departments to immediately begin full vaccination of all members of the Armed Forces under DOD authority on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard, who are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” he wrote. 

Here’s what you need to know about the vaccine mandate, its rollout and how to get yours. 

Can Military Members Meet the Requirement with Moderna or Johnson & Johnson Vaccines?

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that, for now, only the FDA-licensed Comirnaty vaccine is mandatory. Once the other Covid-19 vaccines receive FDA approval, they could be added to the list of available options to meet the mandatory requirement.

Service members who chose to be vaccinated with any of the other available FDA Emergency Use Authorization vaccines before or after this policy are considered fully vaccinated, Austin wrote.

What is the Deadline for Troops to Get Their Covid-19 Vaccine? 

  • Army: The Army has not yet set a deadline for its service members.
  • Navy and Marines: Active Duty service members must get vaccinated against the virus by Nov. 28. Navy and Marine Corps Reservists must be vaccinated by Dec. 28. 
  • Air Force and Space Force:  Active duty airmen must get vaccinated by Nov. 2. Airmen in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve must be vaccinated by Dec. 2. 
  • Coast Guard: Coast Guard officials have encouraged active and reserve Coast Guardsmen to get vaccinated as soon as possible, but have not yet set a deadline.

Where Can I  Get the Covid-19 Vaccine? 

 If you still need the shot, here’s where you can get one. 

  • DOD Vaccination Sites

The DOD has collaborated with the Department of Health and Human Services to create hundreds of DOD vaccination sites, including military hospitals and clinics

  • Civilian Providers

Those outside the area of military medical treatment facilities can go to their civilian provider in their Tricare region. 

Tricare East region facilities 

Tricare West region facilities 

Tricare Overseas facilities 

United States Family Health Plan facilities 

  • Local vaccine sites

State and local public health departments are vaccinating residents in all 50 states. Check with your local health authorities to find a location near you

  • Pharmacies: 

 Pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program – including Albertson’s, Costco, CVS, Kroger, Meijer, Publix, Walgreens and Walmart– provide vaccines at more than 41,000 locations.

  • Reservists and National Guard members can expect the vaccine to be available at an upcoming drill or battle assembly, but can meet the mandatory requirement sooner with one of the resources listed above. 

Do I need to pay for a Covid-19 vaccine?

Nope. Covid-19 vaccines are free – or rather, tax-funded. The United States government has directed more than $36 billion developing, manufacturing, regulating, purchasing and distributing Covid-19 vaccines, according to the Congressional Research Service estimates.

How many troops need to get vaccinated? 

As of Sept. 8, about 81 percent of active duty service members have been fully vaccinated. Roughly 21 percent have had at least their first shot. Vaccination data for the Guard and Reserve is not yet available. 

Can troops refuse the vaccine? 

Now that the vaccine is mandatory, Kirby explained, its administration will be handled like any other mandatory vaccine; service members may apply for a medical or religious exemption according to their service’s policy. Commanders may process those who refuse the vaccine through the military justice system, which could result in reprimand, reduction in rank, and possibly dismissal from the military. 

“It’s a lawful order,” Kirby said in a press conference. “And we fully anticipate that our troops are going to follow lawful orders. And when you raise your right hand and you take that oath that’s what you agree to do. And it hasn’t been a problem in the past with other vaccines.”

Does the Military Have Enough Vaccines?

The Covid-19 vaccination campaign, though logistically ambitious, has been in full swing across the US and DOD since the Army Medical Logistics Management Agency took the lead on consolidating and submitting Covid-19 vaccine orders from all the military branches to the CDC last December. Since vaccinations for Covid-19 began, the CDC has distributed more than 450 million vaccines across the nation. 

That’s a good thing, since the Defense Secretary directed military leaders to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation.” Availability of the Comirnaty vaccine will vary by location due to the specific temperature storage requirements necessary. Service members should contact their medical provider first to ensure that the Comirnaty vaccine is being administered at that location.