How Fort Gordon will handle military vaccination mandate

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 11:16 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Pentagon wants to require COVID-19 vaccinations for service members, and Fort Gordon says it will do what it takes to meet that mandate.

In memos distributed to all troops, top Pentagon leaders said the vaccine is a necessary step to maintain military readiness. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said a mid-September deadline could be accelerated if the vaccine receives final Food and Drug Administration approval or infection rates continue to rise.

“Fort Gordon will work with Headquarters, Department of the Army as it develops the Army vaccine implementation plan to better protect the health and safety of our Soldiers, Families and Civilian employees,” Fort Gordon said Tuesday morning in a statement. “Currently we do not know when the COVID vaccination implementation will begin on Fort Gordon.”

The statement said vaccinating every eligible service member improves readiness, the goal the defense secretary cited.

Once service members are fully vaccinated, there’s “an immediate and positive impact on their families, neighbors, and the communities in which they serve,” Fort Gordon said.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Defense and Fort Gordon have “worked diligently to educate our Service members on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines,” the post said.

Given the size, scale and geographic dispersal of the Department of Defense’s workforce, time would be needed to develop an implementation plan feasible for fully vaccinating personnel, Fort Gordon said.

On each installation, commanders retain the authority to tailor additional mitigation measures to their local situations.

The Defense Department doesn’t require vaccination yet because there’s a law that says vaccines can not be mandated in the military until they’re fully approved by the FDA. President Joe Biden can issue a waiver that would make it mandatory.

The defense secretary says he’ll try to get one by mid-September if a COVID-19 vaccine hasn’t been fully approved by then.

What’s the reaction?

In the military, vaccine mandates are not new.

“You are required to take vaccinations, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts, if you didn’t take them, you’d get disciplinary action, or you could not go to your next assignment,” said veteran Tee Meyers.

Meyers served in the Air Force and Army. In his 11 years, the military required him to take many different vaccines.

“When I raised my right hand and said I would defend this country, I did what they told me to, sometimes you’d get ready to go overseas, you might get five or six vaccinations, but that was required, you’re in the military,” he said.

Meyers believes vaccinating the entire force is necessary.

“There’s close quarters in the military. You’ve gotta be in formation, you’re doing PT. If this is depleting our force, that’s making us weaker,” he said.

The defense secretary has asked all branches of the military to come up with a plan and be ready to take action by mid-September or sooner.

From reports by WRDW/WAGT’s Will Volk and other staff members, as well as The Associated Press