U.S. military plans to introduce mandatory COVID - 19 vaccines

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WASHINGTON, Aug 3 - During his last days before dying from COVID - 19, 26 - year-old Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Cody Myers played a breathing game with himself at a Florida hospital to see how high he could get his oxygen levels.

Like most of the military, Myers chose to get vaccinated - but was exposed a day after getting his first dose in January - not enough time to take effect.

He was really excited to do his part for society and his family. He wouldn't have imagined three weeks later he would die alone in hospital, his sister, Amber Mattson wrote on Facebook and wrote: "If I would get vaccinated, I would die without getting vaccinated."

The Pentagon appears prepared to do something it has not done so far - mandate vaccines to safeguard against COVID - 19. Officials tell Reuters that a decision on next steps could come within days.

The U.S. military says around half the U.S. military is already fully vaccinated, a number that climbs 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 aboard an aircraft carrier last year. 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 completely vaccinated, under 18 years and over.

Because U.S. troops are generally younger and fitter, relatively few U.S. servicemembers like Myers have died as a result of COVID - 19 - 28 in total, according to Pentagon data.

The pandemic however has been devastating to the general population, leading to the biggest decline in life expectancy since World War 2 in the first half of 2020. More than 611,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.

Joe Biden is poised to issue a waiver requiring all military personnel to get vaccinated prior to formal vaccine approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He appeared last week to move step closer by asking the Pentagon to look into how and when they will add COVID - 19 to the list of mandatory vaccinations.

Our troops serve in countries across the world, many where vaccination rates are high and disease is prevalent, Biden said.

The Pentagon’s first announcement will go beyond the initial planning for mandatory vaccinations while the Food and Drug Administration is still weighing formal approval for vaccines that are currently only authorized for emergency use.

However, as the virulent Delta variant wreaks havoc in the United States, Pentagon officials are raising public awareness of the safety of unvaccinated soldiers and even U.S. companies like Walmart and Walt Disney Inc have started vaccination requirements for at least some employees.

Officials admit a significant percentage of the military population and their families have shunned a voluntary vaccination, especially since it is not included on the long list of as many as 17 compulsory vaccinations for everything from measles to smallpox.

While some soldiers may be wary of the new vaccines, many troops just believe that they would be required if it were actually important, officials say.

'We're not going to do it if we're not ordered to do it' - soldiers mindset I guess, said one Army official.

We have a lot of vaccines required for self-protection and once this one is mandatory, I don't think that we will see a lot of pushback. I think people will do what they are required to do, another official said.

Vaccinations have become very mandatory in the United States, as have discussions about making them compulsory for the armed forces.

Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican lawyer from Kentucky, introduced legislation to require mandatory COVID vaccination requirements for troops. What are the prospects of Democrats in the Democratic-controlled House?

Kori Schake, a former national security official now in the American Enterprise Institute think-tank, said servicemembers should be vaccinated against COVID - 19 as a matter of military preparation.

This isn't even close to a close call, says Schake in a column.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the hope was that FDA would move toward giving COVID - 19 vaccines full approval. That would make mandating vaccine less controversial.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at U.S. government, said on Friday he hopes regulators would start granting full approval for the vaccines as soon as this month.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general, appeared to have his hands on the field by suggesting he is willing to mandate vaccines.

Quite frankly, I'm inclined to move towards making sure that everybody is properly protected," Austin said in the Philippines last week.