What to Know About DOD’s Covid-19 Vaccine Mandate

Updated: December 23, 2022
In this Article
    Army Captain receives COVID-19 vaccination

    An Army Captain receives a Covid-19 vaccination at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii on Jan. 14, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Angelo Mejia)

    Service members have a new vaccine requirement.  On Aug. 25, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered all United States service members, including the National Guard and Reserves, to get Covid-19 vaccinations.

    While several branches of service are still determining details, the Navy and Marine Corps announced personnel must be fully vaccinated by the end of the year.

    For anyone keeping count, the new vaccination requirement means service members must now stay up to date on 18 vaccines, Defense Department spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz said.

    The mandate came down two days after the federal Food and Drug Administration approved the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for individuals aged 16 and older.

    While the order only refers to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, service members who received the two-shot Moderna vaccine or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are in the clear.

    “This is a readiness issue,” Dietz said. “The rise of the highly transmissible Delta variant and the speed with which it transmits among individuals have significantly increased risk to our personnel and DoD’s mission.”

    What’s the deadline for military members to get the Covid-19 vaccine? 

    Active duty sailors and Marines must get the shots by Nov. 28. Marine and Navy Reservists must get their shots by Dec. 28.

    “Protecting the health of the force and war-fighting readiness is of paramount importance,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said in an Aug. 31 memorandum.

    The Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard have not announced deadlines. The National Guard Bureau (NGB) is working with its 54 organizations to determine how many of its 443,000 Army and Air National Guard personnel are already vaccinated, since many may have received shots from civilian healthcare providers.

    “It will take time before there is true fidelity on National Guard personnel vaccination rates due to the nature of the organization as a part-time force,” NGB spokesperson Christina Mundy said.

    The order applies to all drilling National Guard members.

    “Once we receive (guidelines), we’ll have a better idea of the timeline,” New Hampshire National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn said. “Currently, 68 percent of our (state’s) force is fully vaccinated. A week ago we were at 62 percent. The number has been steadily increasing.”

    In Texas, National Guard units have provided vaccines to troops on a voluntary basis since they became available last year, according to the organization’s spokesperson, Brandon Jones.

    Where do I get the vaccine? 

    Do I need to pay for a Covid-19 vaccine?

    Covid-19 vaccines are free, thanks to your tax dollars. The Congressional Research Service estimates the federal government has spent or earmarked more than $36 billion developing, manufacturing, regulating, purchasing and distributing Covid-19 vaccines. 

    How much of the military is already vaccinated? 

    As of Sept. 2, 2021, nearly all of the United States’ 1.4 million active duty service members have been at least partially vaccinated for Covid-19, according to DOD. About 20% of those are still awaiting their second shot, according to the Defense Department. Roughly 80% are fully vaccinated. 

    By comparison, 53% (175.5 million people) of the U.S. population were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 3, according to John Hopkins University & Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

    National Guard and Reserve vaccination rates are not yet available.

    In addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine ( marketed as Comirnaty after FDA approval) the DoD Immunization Program also requires service members to be inoculated for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Influenza, Measles, Poliovirus, Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis, Smallpox and Varicella. 

    The vaccines are given individually, depending on the service member’s occupation, deployment location and mission needs.

    Are There Exemptions to the Military’s Vaccine Mandate? 

    Service members participating in Covid-19 clinical trials are exempt from the vaccine mandate. 

    Further exemptions for Covid-19 vaccinations align with policies in place for other DoD-administered vaccines. Service members can request administrative and religious exemptions according to their branch’s respective policies. 

    Medical exemptions are granted by medical professionals, according to Defense officials.

    How do I protect myself from Covid-19? 

    To help lessen Covid-19’s spread, avoid close contact with others, practice healthy habits and good hygiene, and take precautions if living with or taking care of someone sick. 

    Unvaccinated people are the greatest concern for coronavirus infections. While fully vaccinated people get Covid-19 (known as breakthrough infections) less often, they may still transmit the virus to others, officials said. 

    The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following measures to reduce the spread of for Covid-19. 

    • Avoid crowds and poorly-ventilated spaces.
    • Wash hands often.
    • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily.
    • Monitor health daily.
    • Stay at least six feet from others.
    • Wear a mask, covering the nostrils and mouth and making sure it’s snug against the face.
    Written by Rick Martinez

    Rick Martinez is an editor-writer and communications, public relations, marketing and news/digital media professional. He is the proud son of a U.S. Air Force veteran. As a journalist, he’s worked as an editor, managing editor, staff writer and reporter, copy editor and photographer for newspapers, magazines and broadcast and digital media outlets in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and New Hampshire. A Ball State University graduate, he is currently the principal of Pinewood Communications.