After months of trying to get active duty troops to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Defense Department is considering requiring another round of shots to keep service members protected against the disease.
As the new Omicron variant is causing concern among health organizations and spreading rapidly in Europe, the military says booster shots may be needed to keep the services ready.
“There are active discussions here in the department at the policy level about booster shots and whether or not to make those mandatory,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said last Friday. “There have been no final decisions made about that. Rest assured that should there be an addition to that in terms of the mandatory vaccine requirement, we will clearly communicate that and be transparent about it. But there are discussions in the department about the efficacy of enacting a booster mandatory policy, as well.”
Most of the military services are just past their deadlines for active duty service members to be fully vaccinated after being ordered to do so. The Army’s deadline is Dec. 15.
The Omicron variant has shown some vaccine resistant and highly contagious properties, causing health experts to worry that the United States will see another spike in COVID cases in the near future.
There is still a lot of information the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations do not know about Omicron, however, while breakthrough infections caused by the variant are more likely, vaccines still protect against severe illness.
Omicron is already in 30 states and Washington, D.C.
Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the President, recently told ABC’s This Week that preliminary data indicates that booster shots may increase protection against Omicron.
The United States is currently averaging about 118,000 new COVID cases a day.
There is a small pocket of resistance within the military services to getting the vaccines. Out of the about 1.3 million active duty service members in the military, there are only about 40,000 who still have not gotten their vaccines.
Most of those service members are requesting religious accommodations to avoid getting the shot. To date, none of the services granted religious exemptions. Very few medical exemptions have been given out.
The Army says 95% of its soldiers are fully vaccinated as of Dec. 7 and 97% have at least one shot. The Air Force, Space Force and Navy are all seeing similar numbers of about 96% or 97% with at least one dose. The Marine Corps lags slightly at about 95%.