Running out of warrant they seek, military leaders rush to vaccinate troops

COLORADO SPRINGS – Three soldiers in camouflage uniforms were crowded around a table at a popular burrito location near Fort Carson on F...


COLORADO SPRINGS – Three soldiers in camouflage uniforms were crowded around a table at a popular burrito location near Fort Carson on Friday, chewing on the news that the military may soon require all troops to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Two of the soldiers had already received the blow. One hadn’t.

The military had ordered him to receive a quiver of other vaccines, including the annual flu shot. The big difference with this one was that she finally had a choice.

“Honestly, if the military wants you to do something, they’ll force you. It was always voluntary, so I just put it off, ”said the unvaccinated soldier, adding that a busy schedule and fear of side effects had encouraged her to delay.

The soldier declined to give her name because she was not authorized to speak to the media, but said that although most of the soldiers she knows in the station’s 25,000 active-duty soldiers are vaccinated, others have concerns and take advantage of a rare digression. not often tuned to the base.

That may soon change. Late Thursday evening, the Pentagon announced that all military and civilian employees would be asked to prove they were vaccinated or to undergo mandatory masks, physical distancing and regular testing, as well as restrictions on trip, just as President Biden demanded of the rest of the federal civilians. employees. The new requirements bring the armed forces closer to a mandate.

Mandatory injections are standard operating procedure for the military, which, starting from training camp, requires troops to be vaccinated against at least a dozen diseases. For now, however, the military is trying to find ways to get more troops to fire without just giving an order.

Of the 1,336,000 active-duty members of the military, about 64 percent are fully immunized, above the 60 percent of Americans over 18 who are fully vaccinated. But for the military, this rate is unacceptably low, because it is difficult to deploy troops who have not been vaccinated to countries with strict local restrictions, and because a wave of the virus among the troops can cripple preparation. .

Military leaders cannot demand injections because coronavirus vaccines are not fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are only allowed in emergencies. Mr Biden could order compulsory vaccination for troops, but has been reluctant to exercise that authority, and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has previously said he would not be comfortable with a warrant as long as vaccines would not be fully approved.

Although coronavirus vaccines have become a political flashpoint among the civilian population, several military leaders have said they don’t expect much resistance if an order is issued because troops are used to receiving compulsory vaccines. But, they added, while following orders is at the heart of military culture, so too is the soldier’s axiom “never volunteer for anything.”

At the same time, the US military knows how deadly infectious diseases can be because they have been fighting them for centuries.

In the winter of 1777, smallpox ravaged the Continental Army to the point that the ability to continue fighting was in doubt. General George Washington proposed the very first mass vaccination by infecting healthy troops with the pus of their ailing comrades. The practice, which often led to illnesses but drastically reduced the number of deaths, was deeply polarizing. Many settlers saw it as a conspiracy of the devil, or worse, of the crown. Some colonies have banned the practice, and in Virginia rioters have attacked doctors offering treatment.

But Washington felt it had no choice, telling one of its medical advisers that “necessity not only authorizes but appears to demand measure.”

Mass inoculation ended the epidemic and may have been crucial in winning the war, said Carol R. Byerly, historian of military medicine.

“This was the beginning of the recognition that public health is a strategic weapon – and the military has been a leader in the field ever since,” Ms. Byerly said.

As new conflicts pushed American troops to new corners of the world, diseases often killed many more people than the enemy. Military medics have rushed to develop ways to combat afflictions like typhoid and yellow fever. The troops, which to some extent were used as guinea pigs, generally had no say.

“There have always been protests,” Ms. Byerly said, highlighting World War I, when many soldiers and their families launched a letter-writing campaign against a new smallpox vaccine that became the first universally mandatory vaccine in the army. “But the military knows vaccines are the best weapon, so although there is controversy, the leadership thought it was worth it.”

But ordering compulsory vaccination carries its own risks for military preparation. In the 1990s, the military grew tired of vaccinating the entire force against the anthrax virus. Groups of troops refused to comply. Hundreds have been punished – some with other than honorable discharges. Others resigned in protest. In an Air National Guard squadron, a quarter of the pilots resigned rather than being vaccinated, undermining the unit’s ability to function.

The anthrax vaccination effort was hampered by court cases and supply issues, and was ultimately reduced to only a small portion of the high-risk troops.

Failing an order, service branches are trying to encourage members who are reluctant to take the coronavirus vaccine in a way they believe addresses their specific concerns.

Navy officials have found it more effective to talk about the vaccine as both a weapon and a preparedness agent. “Our sailors understand that if they are going into a hostile or dangerous environment, they must wear protective gear,” said Rear Admiral Bruce L. Gillingham, the Surgeon General of the Navy. “It’s an organic bulletproof vest.”

In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a weekly Podcast featured troops chatting with military medical leaders about their vaccine concerns.

In a recent conversation, Sgt. Colt Joiner and Lt. Col. Owen Price discussed a common misconception raised by young soldiers: that they are at a greater risk of dying from the side effects of shooting than from Covid-19. It’s a belief that increasingly worries military commanders, as data on the Delta variant shows high rates of severe illness in unvaccinated youth.

“Me, being a 24 year old guy,” said Sergeant Joiner, “I think right now it’s not that much of a risk to me. At the moment, I just don’t see it as a priority.

The idea that the coronavirus is only a threat to older Americans is “eroding,” Colonel Price told him. “The percentage of people your age seeing these effects is increasing. “

At Fort Carson this week, an officer from a brigade about to deploy proudly said his vaccination rate was 71%, well above the military average. Success, he said, was about showing leadership – getting enlisted soldiers and senior officers getting vaccinated, explaining their choices to junior soldiers, and encouraging them to volunteer.

But was this volunteering really “voluntary” – the military’s cherished tradition of telling troops that they are absolutely expected to do something that is technically voluntary?

Asked, the officer laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “There is probably a bit of that.

Dave Philipps reported in Colorado Springs, and Jennifer steinhauer from Washington.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Running out of warrant they seek, military leaders rush to vaccinate troops
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