The Army has directed commands to prepare to administer mandatory COVID-19 vaccines as early as Sept. 1, pending full Food and Drug Administration licensure, Army Times has learned.
The directive came from an execute order sent to the force by Department of the Army Headquarters.
Army Times obtained a portion of a recent update to HQDA EXORD 225-21, COVID-19 Steady State Operations.
“Commanders will continue COVID-19 vaccination operations and prepare for a directive to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for service members [on or around] 01 September 2021, pending full FDA licensure,” the order said. “Commands will be prepared to provide a backbrief on servicemember vaccination status and way ahead for completion once the vaccine is mandated.”
EXORDS are utilized when the president directs the defense secretary to execute a military operation.
“As a matter of policy we do not comment on leaked documents. The vaccine continues to be voluntary,” said Maj. Jackie Wren, an Army spokesperson. “If we are directed by DoD to change our posture, we are prepared to do so.”
The Pentagon has not put out any guidance to the services to prepare for a mandatory vaccine roll-out in September, a defense official separately told Army Times.
It was not immediately clear whether the vaccines would even be approved in time for a Sept. 1 mandatory rollout. And an FDA spokesperson did not have an exact timeline available.
The ”timelines for vaccine approval may vary depending on a number of factors, but as Pfizer and Moderna announced, they have initiated rolling submissions of their biologics license applications for their COVID-19 vaccines,” said Alison Hunt, an FDA spokesperson. “As a general matter, FDA cannot comment on particular applications.”
Once the companies finish collecting biologics license application data on their vaccines, the FDA will take 60 days to review the applications for full approval, in accordance with the agency’s guidelines for priority review.
The Army currently has around 70 percent of its force vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency.
However, demand for the vaccine has fallen off in recent months across the military, roughly following a similar drop in demand among the American people.
The Veterans Affairs administration is currently weighing a plan to require all VA staffers to receive the vaccine, amid growing worry worldwide about the more severe Delta variant of the virus.
The Navy also recently told sailors to expect a mandatory vaccination program despite having the highest vaccine acceptance rate thus far.
Military Times Pentagon bureau chief Meghann Myers contributed to this report.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.