Pentagon, Federal Government Push for Employee Vaccinations

Ralph Ellis

July 30, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

In a campaign to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19, President Joe Biden and the Pentagon have announced new restrictions on unvaccinated federal employees and military personnel.

The federal workforce must show proof of vaccination. If an employee chooses not to get the shot, they'll have to wear a mask in almost all circumstances, physically distance, have regular testing, and be subject to official travel restrictions. The same restrictions and inconveniences will be applied to federal contractors, Biden said during a Thursday news conference.

"If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated," he said.

The president stopped short of mandating vaccinations for members of the military, but he asked the Pentagon to study that possibility.

Calling COVID-19 a "threat to national security," the Department of Defense announced it will act on Biden's request and consider making the COVID vaccine one of the many vaccines military personnel must take to serve.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will consult with medical professionals and the Joint Chiefs of Staff "to determine how and when to make recommendations to the president with respect to adding the COVID-19 vaccines to the full list of requirements for military personnel," a statement from the Pentagon said.

The new rules will affect more than 4 million federal workers, hundreds of thousands of private contractors, and about 1.5 million people in the military, The New York Times reported. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently required front-line health care workers to get vaccinated, making it the first federal agency to take that step for employees.

Biden's idea drew pushback from Larry Cosme, the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

"FLEOA fully supports individuals who voluntarily choose to be vaccinated, agree that it is safe and the most effective means of combatting the pandemic, and encourage our members to be vaccinated," he said in a statement. "However, forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it."

One factor complicating the mandating of vaccines is that the FDA has only granted emergency use authorization — not full approval — to the three vaccines being given in the United States. Pfizer and Moderna have applied for full approval, and Johnson & Johnson says it intends to.

Some military leaders have said they fully expect the vaccine to be mandated for military personnel once the FDA grants full approval. About 70% of the military is fully vaccinated, the Pentagon has said.

In other steps to get more people vaccinated, Biden called on private employers to impose restrictions on unvaccinated workers and urged state and local governments to offer $100 to people to get vaccinated. School districts should set up pop-up vaccination tents at schools to get more kids 12 and older vaccinated, Biden said.


The White House: "Remarks by President Biden Laying Out the Next Steps in Our Effort to Get More Americans Vaccinated and Combat the Spread of the Delta Variant."

Department of Defense: "Statement by Jamal Brown, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, on COVID-19 Vaccinations."

The New York Times: "Biden Seeks to Revive Vaccine Effort With New Rules and Incentives."

Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association: "FLEOA Position: Federal Workforce Vaccine Mandate."