Defense Department officials are reviewing whether to make a coronavirus booster shot mandatory for all active-duty and reserve troops, but have not come to any final decisions on the need yet, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Friday.
“There are discussions in the department about the efficacy of a booster mandatory policy as well,” he told reporters during a press conference. “Should there be an addition to the [department’s] mandatory vaccine requirement, we will clearly communicate that and be transparent about it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all Americans age 16 and older get both the initial two-dose COVID-19 vaccine (or the one-dose version produced by Johnson & Johnson) and a booster shot six months after completing the initial regimen.
Earlier this month, White House officials announced that all eligible Americans should get a booster shot “as soon as possible” to help counter the recent surge in COVID-19 variant cases spreading worldwide.
The military services have required all active-duty troops to be vaccinated with the initial doses, and Guard and Reserve troops to get their shots by next summer.
Kirby said that more than 96 percent of the active duty force has gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, with 90 percent fully vaccinated.
Guard and reserve numbers are significantly lower — for the military as a whole, the fully vaccinated rate is 74 percent. However, some of those numbers could be lower because of a lag in collecting and reporting information from guard and reserve units.
When asked whether those figures were disappointing to senior leaders, Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin remains focused on getting everyone vaccinated, with the exception of a small number of individuals with medical or other issues that make the shots impractical.
“The Secretary’s expectation is 100 percent vaccination,” Kirby said. “That’s what he wants to see.”
At least 75 service members have died from coronavirus-related conditions since the start of the American pandemic in March 2020. Of those, 46 have come since the end of July, although no new deaths have been reported in the last few weeks as the services’ mandatory vaccination deadlines arrived.
Kirby said military officials recommend all troops eligible for a booster shot get one, even if it is not mandatory. Those shots are available at military health facilities.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.