Both the Coast Guard and the National Guard are planning to follow the Defense Department in requiring service members to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, impacting about half a million people.
DoD announced on Monday that it would seek approval from the president to require vaccines for 1.4 million active duty troops by mid-September at the latest. President Joe Biden already said he will support the measure once it reaches his office.
The Coast Guard is considered part of the Department of Homeland Security, but often follows suit with what the Pentagon orders.
“Like the rest of the joint force, the Coast Guard is ready to implement mandatory vaccination for its military personnel when authorized or directed by higher authority,” Lt. j.g. Sondra-Kay Kneen, a Coast Guard spokeswoman told Federal News Network. “To date, the Coast Guard has fully vaccinated over 67% of its workforce, including 73.7% of all active duty military personnel. The Coast Guard continues its campaign to vaccinate the entire workforce to sustain mission readiness, and ensure we are protecting ourselves, our shipmates, our families and our communities against COVID-19. This included fully vaccinating over 70% of our active duty workforce prior to the July 4 holiday.”
The National Guard is also planning to follow any guidance from the Pentagon.
“What we can say is that the National Guard is postured to support any guidance the Secretary of Defense releases,” National Guard Spokesman Wayne Hall said. “If the vaccine does become a requirement, all National Guard service members, other than those on state active duty, will be subject to any mandatory vaccination directive to the same extent as active component personnel.”
The Coast Guard has already implemented rules to limit unvaccinated service members, the first such regulations seen in the armed forces.
According to an Aug. 6 release from the service, for unvaccinated military personnel, including reservists on active duty, leave travel to or through foreign countries or territories is prohibited. Unvaccinated personnel must stay in their local travel zone.
“This includes previously approved leave,” the release states. “Members may request a waiver, with final approval authority at the first flag officer in their chain of command, in extenuating circumstances.”
For civilians and reservists not on orders, the Coast Guard is highly discouraging leave or leisure travel through foreign countries or territories.
DoD and the other military services have not outlined what will happen to service members who may rebuke the future lawful order to be mandatorily vaccinated.
“Adding a vaccine to the mandatory list isn’t something that happens every day,” Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said Monday. “It’s a big muscle movement and the secretary wants to give the services ample time to prepare for that, as well as the force. You can consider this memo today as what we would call in the military a warning order. A warning order to the force that this is coming, and we want you to be ready for it as well. And obviously, we’d prefer that you get the vaccine now and not wait for the mandate.”
Kirby said that DoD is closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation, and will move faster on getting approval for mandatory vaccines if needed. COVID cases are rapidly rising in the United States, paralleling rates from last fall. The seven-day average of new cases is currently at about 118,000.
There has been some reluctance in the military community to voluntarily get the vaccine. Military advocacy groups that have been conducting surveys found that service members and their families didn’t trust the vaccine creation process or had concerns about its safety.
In February, DoD told Congress that a third of military service members refused to get the vaccine.
About 62% of the active duty force is currently vaccinated, according to Kirby.
There has been no evidence that the vaccine is unsafe.