“I want you to know that I will seek the President’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensure, whichever comes first,” it adds.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley will also communicate a related message to the troops.
“As many of you know, President Biden asked me to consider how and when we might add the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines to the list of those required for all Service members,” according to the memo, which was released by the Defense Department on Monday.
Biden was briefed Friday by Austin and Milley on the options for mandating Covid-19 vaccines within the Department of Defense.
While it was clear this was the path Biden wanted to pursue, the process is complicated, given the President must sign a waiver ordering it within the military if the vaccine does not have full approval from the FDA, according to a senior administration official.
Monday’s memo from the Pentagon says vaccinations will be required starting in mid-September, according to the copy obtained by CNN. If no Covid-19 vaccine has full approval by then, Biden will sign the waiver that says members of the military do not have the right to refuse the coronavirus vaccine.
CNN reported last week that Austin was expected to seek authorization to make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for all active duty troops following Biden’s directive that the military examine how and when it could make that happen.
Austin’s “inclination is towards making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory” for active duty troops, a defense official said at the time.
Biden announced on July 29 that he was asking the Defense Department to “look into how and when” it will add the Covid-19 vaccine to the list of mandatory military vaccinations. Biden specifically said he knew that Austin is “open to it.”
Since then, the Joint Chiefs have met to discuss how a mandatory vaccination plan might work. Austin has also been consulting with military medical authorities, the defense official said. Austin’s current view is to “seek authorization to make it mandatory.”
The Pentagon previously indicated it was likely to wait for FDA approval before making inoculation against Covid-19 mandatory, but Biden’s push for greater vaccination levels created pressure to move more quickly and will likely lead the Pentagon to request a presidential waiver.
A Justice Department memo dated July 6 said that “because DOD has informed us that it understandably does not want to convey inaccurate or confusing information to service members—that is, telling them that they have the ‘option’ to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine if they effectively lack such an option because of a military order—DOD should seek a presidential waiver before it imposes a vaccination requirement.”
This story has been updated with additional background information.