U.S. troops have been ordered to get vaccinated for COVID-19 immediately, according to a memo released Wednesday by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The order came two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave final approval to Pfizer’s vaccine, paving the way for more than 800,000 unvaccinated service members to get inoculated.
The memo does not indicate when the vaccinations should be completed, but it requires the military branches to provide regular updates on how they are progressing.
“To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Austin said in the memo. “After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the President, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease … is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people.”
The U.S. military will administer the shots to troops stationed in the U.S. and around the world. Service members also can choose to get vaccinated on their own.
Vaccinating National Guard troops might pose more of a challenge because they are scattered throughout the U.S. and gather for training just once a month.
The order only applies to Pfizer’s vaccine. Moderna has applied to the FDA for full approval of its vaccine. Johnson and Johnson said it hopes to apply later this year.
As of August 18, the Pentagon said more than 1 million active-duty National Guard and Reserve troops had been fully vaccinated and that nearly a quarter of a million more received at least one dose.
There are more than 1.3 million active-duty troops and nearly 800,000 others serving in the National Guard and the Reserves.