Pentagon mulls mandatory COVID-19 shots for U.S. troops

Updated: May 7

The Biden administration may soon require all uniformed military personnel to get shots that will protect them from the more dangerous symptoms of COVID-19.

About one third of all service members have received either one or two COVID shots so far, including more than 168,000 Navy Sailors. However, a significant portion of the military has said it is not interested in receiving the shot that more than 100 million Americans have taken.

More than 190,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among U.S. military personnel, and 25 deaths. Those numbers have the White House wondering whether shots should be required.

Under current U.S. law, however, mandatory shots are not permitted in the military because none of the versions being used in the U.S. have been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Three of them – made by fizer, Moderna and Janssen – have only been authorized for emergency use.

An order from President Joseph Biden is one way around that obstacle, and the administration is examining the legality of this move.

"That is something the Department of Defense is looking at in consultation with the interagency process," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday.

In the meantime, service members continue to deal with restrictions related to COVID-19 while on active duty, and a new report said those restrictions are leading to morale problems within the Navy.

Cmdr. Matt Wright, the leader of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 22 in Norfolk, Va., wrote that the Navy has imposed restrictions on off-duty activities that is prompting some of them to leave the service. Wright wrote that he knows one pilot who will quit the Navy, and said “the preceding year’s restrictions on his individual liberty played a significant part in his desire to leave.”

“I can clearly see the results of those restrictions on the morale and mental health of my squadron, but more important, I am concerned that Navy personnel have already suffered significant and unnecessary damage to their long-term health,” he wrote. “[I] it is far past time to update the Navy’s defensive posture.”

Wright indicated that the Navy is going beyond recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that complying with CDC guidance alone would resolve the issue for many Sailors. He said more than 200,000 Navy Sailors now have a “significant level of immunity” either by receiving one of the COVID-19 shots by recovering from the virus.

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