U.S. troops are being encouraged but not required to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, according to a newly published memorandum.
Troops were told earlier this month in the memo, published by the military on Dec. 28, that “receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose is not mandatory.”
The memo, from Gilbert Cisneros, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, also states that a vaccine booster shot isn’t required for a person to be considered fully vaccinated.
Cisneros noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in November that all adults aged 18 and older get a vaccine booster because of the waning effectiveness against both infection and severe disease seen among those who have received a primary regimen.
People can get a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine booster dose six months after the completion of the primary series or a Johnson & Johnson vaccine booster two months following the single-shot vaccine.
Teenagers aged 16 or 17 can also get a booster, though it’s not explicitly recommended at this time.
Top Pentagon officials had discussed requiring troops to get vaccine booster shots.
“There are active discussions here in the department at the policy level about booster shots and whether or not to make those mandatory,” John Kirby, Department of Defense spokesman, told reporters on Dec. 10.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a vaccine mandate in August that required troops to get the primary regimen of a COVID-19 vaccine. Exceptions were outlined for those who applied for medical, religious, or administrative exemptions.
The military has granted thousands of medical and administrative exemptions, but still hasn’t approved a single religious one, something attorneys representing troops say violates federal law.
“I think it shows that the military now believes that it’s above the law, that it doesn’t have to follow the Constitution or federal law when it comes to enforcing its rules or its policies,” Mike Berry, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, told The Epoch Times.
The Pentagon has defended its reluctance to grant religious exemptions, claiming that its process has remained unchanged from prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A religious exemption is really an individual decision to seek one and the decisions are made individually. They’re not made en masse,” Kirby said last week. “Each exemption asked for on religious grounds is evaluated by a chaplain, by a chain of command, by medical experts, and is given quite a lot of thought, and they’re all decided case by case individually.”
Deadlines to get vaccinated have passed for all active-duty troops. Reservists have varying timelines depending on which branch they serve under. The deadlines for reserve components in the Air Force, Navy, and Marines came and went earlier this month. Reservists in the Army, including the Army National Guard, have until June 30, 2022, to get a COVID-19 vaccine.