With mandate expected, Fort Bragg estimates up to 80% of soldiers have been vaccinated against COVID-19

Cumberland County News

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – U.S. troops may soon be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

President Joe Biden directed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to look into adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of mandatory vaccines for active-duty military. Austin is expected to make an announcement Friday.

Octavius Sankey received multiple vaccines during his three years in the Army but believes troops shouldn’t be forced to get the COVID-19 shot.

“It’s your choice, your body,” he said. “You know your body better than anybody.”

Because the three COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. are not fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Biden would have to issue a waiver, which would allow the Department of Defense to mandate it.

“I think it’s absolutely necessary,” said Rodney Peoples, who retired after serving 20 years in the Army. “It’s the only way we can get it under control.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the military mandated a vaccine before it had full FDA approval. Troops were required to get the anthrax vaccine in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the military temporarily suspended inoculations after adverse reactions were reported.

Fort Bragg’s Public Affairs Office didn’t give specifics, but estimates 60 to 80 percent of its soldiers have voluntarily taken the COVID-19 vaccine.

Javon Starnes, spokesperson for the 18th Airborne Corp, said he was hesitant about the vaccine, but decided to get it after he and his wife contracted COVID-19.

“After experiencing the worst symptoms, that was something I never wanted to go through again. I can relate it to having food poisoning and just your body aching all the time,” Starnes said.

He added that his wife hasn’t regained her sense of smell or taste.

Active duty soldier Dustin Dellerman believes the military should prioritize other health concerns like suicide rates, but understands not having a mandate could lead to more positive cases, which could impact their ability to deploy.

“Ultimately, mission readiness, that’s the No. 1 goal — to make sure we are able to do our job,” Dellerman said. He has served 12 years in the Army.

“If we’re not allowed to go do our job in other countries, then that person in that position is almost rendered useless if they can’t, in fact, leave to do their job. So, I guess it’s really personnel management.”

Camp LeJeune and the Seymour Johnson Air Force would not tell CBS 17 what percentage of their active-duty airmen and Marines were vaccinated.

Instead, a spokesperson for the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Medical Treatment Center said it has administered 11,500 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but did not specify how many were given to active-duty airmen and airwomen.

The Naval Medical Center at Camp LeJeune said it has administered 61,478 first and second doses. It’s unclear how many went to active-duty Marines.

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