The Defense Department has been reluctant to publicly announce how many troops have received a COVID-19 vaccination and how many have refused to get it, but senior Pentagon officials came prepared for questions to a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Of about 916,000 doses administered to DoD personnel, 359,000 have received at least one dose, and 147,000 are fully vaccinated, according to Bob Salesses, who is performing the duties of assistant defense secretary for homeland defense and global security.
About a third of those offered the vaccine have turned it down, according to Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, the Joint Staff’s vice director for operations.
That’s worrying to lawmakers.
“With new variants popping up across the globe, I’m not sure we can wait two years,” for full Food and Drug Administration approval, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said. “It’s critical for our national security that every service member, as well as DoD civilian personnel and contractors, receive vaccines as soon as possible.”
Previously, the Pentagon had declined to detail how many troops had received vaccines and the overall take rate. A defense official told Military Times in early February that DoD’s general counsel made that call.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are under an emergency use authorization, which means they haven’t completed all of the multiple rounds of rigorous testing required before the FDA clears them.
Because it is federal law, department policy is that a vaccine under that authorization won’t be mandatory, though service members are required to receive myriad other inoculations in order to serve.
The suspicion among service members closely mirrors that of the general U.S. public, according to a recent poll from the Associated Press.
“What we’re seeing right now is similar to what we’re seeing across the entire United States, in that there’s ... a higher percentage of people who are older who are opting to have the vaccine, and it trends down with age,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon, told reporters Jan. 29.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.