LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The COVID-19 vaccine will soon be mandatory for all U.S. military members. According to a memo obtained by the Associated Press, the Pentagon will be announcing plans to require all American service members to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting next month.
13 Action News spoke with retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Novotny today who said it's well within the military's power to require servicemembers to get vaccinated. He remembers receiving a series of eight shots in the late 1990s as part of the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program (AVIP).
"The anthrax vaccine was a tough vaccine. It was a very localized reaction, normally. Some folks didn't have any problems, like anything else. And others had quite a bit of soreness, quite a lump under your arm and you'd feel under the weather for a day or two. And we were aware that there would be consequences if you didn't get the vaccinations. There were people that faced Uniform Code of Military Justice discipline and some were actually dismissed from the service for failing to get vaccinated," said Novotny.
Novotny imagines there will probably be some pushback to this new COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the military. He says service members are not immune to social media, and thus they are much more informed or misinformed about vaccines than they used to be.
He thinks the large majority of military personnel will comply with the mandate, but he imagines there will be some who will refuse to get the shots. In that case, they could be punished, but he doesn't see it getting to that point.
"I imagine that Pfizer will probably get some kind of approval nationally in the next few weeks, which will make this all pretty moot. And then the Secretary of Defense won't even need the President's approval. They'll just add it to the list, like a flu shot, and then everyone will just have to get it," said Novotny.
He also points out that service members can seek exemption from vaccines for a variety of reasons, including health issues or religious beliefs. It's unclear how that will factor into the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Novotny says this new mandate is to maintain military readiness and unvaccinated service members can present challenges in a military base setting.
"You live very close together, the maintenance personnel, the fighter pilots, everybody's in close proximity together. And so, if it's a highly infectious disease that could potentially cripple your unit for a short amount of time, then you're not war-ready and that's a serious implication to your ability to go fight," said Novotny.
13 Action News reached out to Nellis Air Force Base for comment on the new mandate.
Lt. Col. Bryon McGarry, a Nellis Air Force Base Spokesperson sent a statement that reads:
“We are aware of reports of a potential DoD mandate for COVID vaccinations. At this time, the vaccine remains voluntary and highly encouraged for service members and all eligible DoD beneficiaries. Nellis AFB remains in Health Protection Condition – Bravo+ status. In accordance with CDC guidance, in areas of substantial or high community transmission, DoD requires all Service members, Federal employees, onsite contractor employees, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask in an indoor setting in installations and other facilities owned, leased or otherwise controlled by DoD. To protect operational security as we preserve the nation’s combat readiness, the Air Force and the other military services will only release total numbers of vaccinated service members at the service level."