The Pentagon has a “range of tools” to compel military service members to get the COVID-19 vaccine after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last month, officials said on Thursday.
It comes as House lawmakers have backed legislation, sponsored by Army veteran Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn, which prohibits dishonorable discharges for troops who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
Speaking at a press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby told reporters that it was important for service members to “understand the ramifications of their decision” should they choose not to have the vaccine.
“As we’ve talked about before, the secretary expects that the department leadership will implement these mandatory vaccines with skill—but also, because we know how to do this across a range of other vaccines—but also [with] professionalism and compassion,” Kirby said.
“And when an individual declines to take a mandatory vaccine, they will be given an opportunity to talk to both medical providers as well as their own chain of command so that they can fully understand the decision that they are making.
“And the other thing I’d say is that our commanders have a range of tools available to them short of using the Uniform Code of Military Justice to again try to get men and women in the department to make the right decision here.”
When questioned about whether or not there would be a strict punishment for service men and women who refuse to get the vaccine, including dishonourable discharge, Kirby noted that troops who refuse to be inoculated may not necessarily face dishonorable discharge.
The press secretary said that there are “a range of options available to commanders short of charges being filed and punishment of any given kind,” should it escalate to a disciplinary procedure.
“And this would be something that commanders would handle themselves. It wouldn’t be some top-down driven set policy for every case across the whole department. This would be something that commanders would be able to decide for themselves,” he continued.