The U.S. Army is preparing to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all personnel as early as September should the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grant full approval by then.

The Army Times obtained portions of an order sent by Department of the Army Headquarters to the service’s commands.

“Commanders will continue COVID-19 vaccination operations and prepare for a directive to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for service members [on or around] 01 September 2021, pending full FDA licensure,” the order said. “Commands will be prepared to provide a backbrief on servicemember vaccination status and way ahead for completion once the vaccine is mandated.”

Hawaii has 42,000 active service members stationed in the islands along with about 9,400 National Guardsmen and Reservists. Tripler Army Medical Center received its first doses of Pfizer vaccines in December shortly after they became available.

It’s unclear what the vaccination rates are among service members in Hawaii. Pentagon directives have kept information on local infection and vaccination rates among troops and families mostly secret, though commanders do share military COVID-19 data with the Hawaii Department of Health.

Army Medic Angela Asencio gives Army Captain Jason Tuttle part #1 of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Tripler Army Medical Center. December 17, 2020
Army Medic Angela Asencio gives Army Capt. Jason Tuttle his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Tripler Army Medical Center when the hospital first received them in December. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The U.S. military mandates vaccines for most common diseases as well as diseases that troops may experience on deployments. But because the FDA authorized the COVID-19 vaccines on an emergency basis, the military has kept getting a jab voluntary up to this point.

Across the force about 70% of U.S. Army soldiers have had at least one dose according to Pentagon data as of June.

The Navy has the highest vaccination rate of the branches at 79%. The Air Force has a rate of 61% and the Marine Corps has the lowest at 58%.

Speaking at a Facebook town hall event last month, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell signaled that the Navy is also making plans for mandatory vaccinations. “When it’s formally approved, which we expect pretty soon, we’ll probably go to that,” Nowell said.

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