In a disturbing update from the Pentagon, a third of U.S. troops are declining to be vaccinated against COVID-19
As the United States races to vaccinate the public against COVID-19, there’s plenty of resistance from anti-vaxxers, COVID hoaxers, and the generally uninformed when it comes to receiving the all-important shot. Sadly, that also extends to our nation’s military, as a third of U.S. troops are reportedly declining the vaccine.
According to The New York Times, Pentagon officials reported today the worrying percentage of troops that are declining the vaccine when it’s offered. The rate of refusal is just above the rate of American civilians declining the vaccine and is the same among both active-duty troops and members of the National Guard. Weirdly enough, it’s troops who have been assisting state governments in administering both coronavirus tests and vaccines.
At this point, just under one million members of the military and its contractors (960,000 to be exact) have been vaccinated against the virus. That stat was reported at a House Armed Services Committee hearing by Robert G. Salesses, acting assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security.
The Pentagon is able to require U.S. troops to have standard vaccines, but can’t make the COVID-19 vaccine similarly mandatory as it’s only been rolled out through federal emergency use authorizations. All the Pentagon can do at this point is ask members of the military to get the vaccine — they cannot require it.
Troops that decide against the shot are still able to deploy overseas, according to Major General Jeff Taliaferro, vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the hearing today he said, “We think it’s important that the department continues to communicate to our service members the safety of the vaccine.”
U.S. troops are, of course, not alone in their decision to eschew the vaccine. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 31 percent of American civilians are making the choice to wait until the shot “has been available for a while to see how it is working for other people” before getting it themselves. The Times reports that some studies have found vaccine refusal rates are highest among Republicans and Hispanic adults. Frighteningly, that includes people who work in health care.
The Pentagon has not said exactly how many U.S. troops are declining the vaccine, but members of the National Guard have been used in most states as a means of assisting with vaccine distribution and giving shots to people themselves.
As far as what might motivate service personnel to get the shot? ABC News reports that military leaders have pinpointed one possible factor — deployment. Navy sailors shipping out last week were opting for the shot at rates exceeding 80 and 90 percent.
Of course, service members deciding not to be vaccinated is especially concerning as they tend to live and work together in situations where social distancing isn’t easy. We saw very recently how easily members of the National Guard caught COVID while guarding the Capitol building amid Joe Biden’s inauguration and after the January 6th riots.
Hopefully, the Pentagon will find ways to persuade more service members to accept the vaccine — and that the American people will follow suit.