US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on Wednesday announced that vaccination against Covid-19 is now mandatory for all members of the armed forces.
The Pentagon chief directed military leaders to immediately begin the process of inoculating “the armed forces under [Department of Defence] authority on active duty or in the ready reserve, including the National Guard".
So far, 68 per cent of active-duty troops have been fully vaccinated, and 76 per cent are partially vaccinated, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
The only troops exempt from being vaccinated under the new order are those with religious objections or if a doctor says they have a medical reason not to receive the shot, he added.
In a statement, Mr Austin said he had come to the decision after careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership.
“Mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all of our servicemembers and mission-critical inoculation is almost as old as the US military itself,” Mr Austin said.
“Our administration of safe, effective Covid-19 vaccines has produced admirable results to date and I know the Department of Defence will come together to finish the job, with urgency, professionalism and compassion.”
Mr Austin had previously said he would issue a mandate requiring all servicemembers to be vaccinated by mid-September or “immediately upon” the full approval of a vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration, whichever comes first.
“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,” US President Joe Biden said after Mr Austin announced the coming mandate. “These vaccines will save lives. Period. They are safe. They are effective.”
The decision comes about a month after Mr Biden declared that all federal employees must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or else submit to rigorous testing.
Members of the US armed forces are required to be immunised against a wide range of diseases, including hepatitis, tetanus, varicella and several other illnesses depending on where they are stationed.