- COVID-19 vaccinations will soon be mandated for all military personnel.
- People in the military already have a slightly higher vaccination rate than the public.
- Experts say it’s unlikely military personnel who want to challenge the mandate can win in court, since vaccinations have been part of the military since the Revolutionary War.
Julie Bryant proudly served in the U.S. Navy from 1981 to 1985, then she returned for another 8 months from 1986 to 1987 when asked to be part of a defense fraud task force.
Bryant, who was a cryptologic technician communications officer, told Healthline she was given 12 vaccines when she arrived at boot camp.
It was all part of serving her country. She took it in stride.
In today’s U.S. military, the number of vaccines given to active duty troops can reach 17, sometimes even higher.
The COVID-19 vaccines have not been on the Department of Defense’s mandatory list. But that’s about to change.
Military leaders recently announced that all 1.3 million active duty service members will be required to be fully vaccinated as soon as mid-September to fight the highly contagious Delta variant.
In a letter to U.S. military officials, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he would seek a presidential waiver of a requirement that vaccines mandated by the Pentagon have the full approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), unless the agency grants that approval first.
The approval of at least one of the U.S. vaccines — the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — is expected next month.
Members of the U.S. military have received COVID-19 vaccinations at a slightly higher rate than the public.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that while nearly 59 percent of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated, about 65 percent of active duty military personnel are fully vaccinated.
But it varies with each branch of the military.
The Navy is 75 percent fully vaccinated. But the Marine Corps is only 59 percent, the Post reported.
In a tweet addressed to all military branches last week, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that vaccine mandates in the military are a longstanding tradition.
“Since the first day of basic training, and throughout our service, we’ve received multiple vaccines,” Milley wrote. “We have proven processes with trusted and skilled medical professionals.”
Healthline interviewed 10 service members on active duty for this story. None wanted their names used in the article.
Eight of the troops interviewed said they would get the vaccine.
Two of them said they will consider refusing the vaccine — even if it results in their separation from the military.
Some may seek exemptions, likely citing health issues or religious beliefs.
But do they have any real chance of winning this legal fight?
Probably not, said Brewster Rawls, an Army veteran and attorney who represents veterans and their families in cases that arise out of alleged negligent medical care from the Veterans Administration and military healthcare institutions.
“Part of the social contract when you join the military is that you need vaccinations to be part of a unit,” Rawls told Healthline.
“I think there will be some resistance to the vaccinations, but, at the end of the day, the military wins on that argument, right or wrong,” he added.
The military’s involvement with vaccines actually started before the nation was officially born, when Gen. George Washington made use of the smallpox vaccine to help win the Revolutionary War.
There were those who refused to take the anthrax vaccine, and some of them were prosecuted.
While some people compare those efforts by the Department of Defense to the current COVID-19 vaccine mandate, there are differences.
The biggest one?
Millions of people nationwide and worldwide have taken these vaccines. There’s also overwhelming evidence that they are safe and effective.
Meanwhile, Bryant is happy to hear that U.S. troops will be fully vaccinated.
“We’ve not experienced a pandemic in a very long time, and times like these call for measures to eradicate or control the spread of the virus before it mutates and makes our vaccines ineffective,” she said.
“I’m happy to provide a perspective that is based on science, logic, service, and caring about my neighbor as I do myself,” she added.