As Cody Myers spent his last days in a Florida hospital before dying from COVID - 19, 26 year-old Navy Petty Officer 2 nd Class, He played a breathing game with himself to see how high he could be up.
Like most military officers, Myers chose to get vaccinated - but was exposed just a day after getting his first dose in January, not enough time to cure it.
He was really excited to do his part for society and for his family. He won't have imagined he would die in hospital three weeks later, his sister, Amber Mattson wrote on a Facebook page, imploring people to get vaccinated.
With the Delta variant growing, the Pentagon appears poised to do something it has not so far mandated - give vaccinations to safeguard against COVID - 19. Reuters informs officials that a decision on next steps could come within days.
The U.S. military says around half of the U.S. military is fully vaccinated, a number that rises significantly when counting only active duty troops and excluding National Guard and reserve members Vaccination rates are highest in the Navy, which suffered from a high-profile outbreak last year aboard an aircraft carrier. About 73% of sailors are fully vaccinated.
That compares with the U.S. National average of about 60% of adults ages 18 and over who have been fully vaccinated.
Because U.S. troops are generally younger and fitter, relatively few U.S. servicemembers like Myers have died as a result of COVID 19 -- just 28 in total, according to Pentagon data
However, the pandemic for the general U.S. population has been devastating, leading to the biggest loss of life expectancy since World War II in the first half of 2020 since then. More than 611,000 people have died of COVID in the United States.
President Joe Biden could issue a waiver that requires troops to get vaccinated prior to formal vaccine approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Last week he appeared to move one step closer by asking the Pentagon to look into when and how they should add COVID 19 to their list of mandatory vaccinations.
Our troops serve in all over the world, many where vaccine rates are prevalent and disease rates are low, said Biden.
It is unclear if the Pentagon's initial announcements will go beyond ordering planning for emergency vaccinations while the Food and Drug Administration is still measuring mandatory approval for vaccines, which are authorized only for mandatory use.
As the virulent Delta variant wreaks havoc in the United States, Pentagon officials are raising concern about the safety of unvaccinated troops and even U.S. companies like Walmart and Walt Disney Inc have started vaccination requirements for at least some employees.
Officials acknowledge a significant percentage of the military population and their families have shunned a voluntary vaccine, particularly since it is not listed on the longer list of as many as 17 mandatory vaccines, for everything from measles to smallpox.
While some troops may be wary of the new vaccines, many simply believe that it would be required if it was actually important, officials say.
'We're not going to do it if we don't get orders to do it' - soldiers mindset I guess, said one Army official.
We have a lot of vaccinations that are required for self protection and once this one is mandatory, I don't think that we will have a lot of pushback. I think people will do as they're required to, another official said.
Vaccinations have also become a mandatory issue in the United States - as are discussions about making them political for the armed forces.
Representative Thomas Massie, a Republican lawmaker in Kentucky, introduced legislation to prohibit mandatory COVID - 19 vaccination requirement for troops. On paper, its prospects look dim in the Democratic Party.
Kori Schake, a former National Security Official now at the American Enterprise Institute think-tank, said servicemembers should be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a matter of military preparedness.
Among others, Schake has written how close it's not even close to winning the contest.
Two U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said the hope was that FDA moves to give COVID -19 vaccines full approval for the drugs. Why would mandating vaccine be less controversial?
Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Friday he hopes regulators will begin granting full approval for vaccines as soon as this month.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general, appeared to tip his hand in suggesting a willingness to mandate vaccines.
"Quite frankly, I'm inclined to move toward making sure that everybody is properly protected," said Austin in the Philippines last week.