U.S. military members reportedly on par with national average in refusing Covid-19 vaccine

Roughly one-third of all U.S. military members do not want a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Pentagon official Wednesday, a figure that is on par with Americans who are not in uniform.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said military member “acceptance rates are somewhere in the two-thirds territory,” initial data indicates.

Meanwhile, Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven S. Nordhaus, director of operations for the Nation Guard Bureau, testified that there is a similar refusal rate for Guard troops, which he said mirrored the civilian population.

Taliaferro emphasized that while vaccines are “clearly safe for servicemembers,” the rate of refusal may be due to a lack of education “to help them understand the benefits” of getting the shots.

In response to questioning from Ranking Member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Taliaferro also explained that the services have been trained to operate in “COVID environments” and thus, members who are not vaccinated are nevertheless still deployable.

Thus far, the Defense Department has fully vaccinated 147,000 members, according to Robert Salesses, a senior official, while roughly 359,000 members have gotten their initial dose. Within the past year, the Pentagon said, some 235,248 DoD members have contracted COVID-19, according to Military.com.

Not all of those have been troops, however. Of that figure, 150,910 were military members, while 24,189 were military dependents, 45,106 were DoD civilians, and 15,053 were Pentagon contractors. Of the total, at least 277 died as a result of catching the virus.

The viral outbreaks have been significant aboard Navy vessels including aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is currently experiencing its second since the pandemic erupted.

According to a study published in January, at least 30 percent of the U.S. population expressed no interest in getting the vaccine, which is not expected to be widely available to the general public until this spring, according to reports.

The Pentagon said in November that, for the time being, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force personnel won’t be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s because the vaccines so far have been approved under an emergency order.

“It is expected that these vaccines will be voluntary until achieving full FDA approval,” Lou Burton, chief of media operations for the Air Force Surgeon General, said at the time.

“Voluntary for everyone,” said Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, head of the Defense Health Agency, in December. “No ifs, ands or buts about it. Voluntary for everyone.

“The safety profile is very good. The risk of these vaccines from what we know is much less than the risk from the actual disease process,” he added.

But it’s possible that, at some point in the near future, military members will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 like they are required to receive a flu vaccine every year. Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said when the Food and Drug Administration approves a regular license for vaccines, “at that point voluntariness may change to mandatory. 

“That’s a possibility in the future,” he added. 

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Jon Dougherty

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