US President Joe Biden on Monday said he supports the Pentagon's plan to mandate the vaccination of troops against Covid-19.
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier declared that in the coming weeks he will issue a mandate for all servicemembers to receive a vaccination by mid-September or “immediately upon” the full approval of a vaccine by the US Food and Drug Administration, whichever comes first.
“I strongly support Secretary Austin’s message to the force today on the Department of Defence’s plan to add the Covid-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September,” Mr Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
“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. These vaccines will save lives. Period. They are safe. They are effective.”
Currently, 73 per cent of active duty personnel have received at least one dose of the vaccine, Pentagon officials said.
General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a memo supporting Mr Austin's order, saying that getting vaccinated "is a key force protection and readiness issue."
"If you have not yet taken the vaccine, please do so to protect yourself and those around you," Gen Milley wrote.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is expected to receive full approval sometime within the next two months — an upgrade from the emergency use authorisation it currently has, along with other Covid-19 vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
“I have every confidence that service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination programme with professionalism, skill and compassion,” Mr Austin wrote in his statement.
About 1.3 million active-duty personnel serve in the US military. Mr Austin said Pentagon leadership is currently working on a plan to enforce the new requirement.
He also strongly encouraged civilian staff and contractors to be vaccinated as soon as possible, citing the highly contagious Delta variant that is now the dominant strain in the US and globally.
The US is now seeing a surge in coronavirus cases, with the seven-day average hitting 99,000 daily infections, higher levels than what was seen during the first and second waves in the spring and summer of 2020.
The country is also dealing with one of the world's most vaccine-resistant populations.
A growing number of companies are requiring vaccinations to return to the office.
“We are still on a wartime footing and every American who is eligible should take immediate steps to get vaccinated right away,” Mr Biden said.