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Lawmakers ask Biden to make COVID vaccine mandatory for troops

Sgt. Andrew Petersen, left, biomedical equipment technician at SHAPE Healthcare Facility, receives a COVID-19 vaccination at the healthcare facility Jan. 8 at Mons, Belgium. Photo by Christophe Morel/U.S. Army
Sgt. Andrew Petersen, left, biomedical equipment technician at SHAPE Healthcare Facility, receives a COVID-19 vaccination at the healthcare facility Jan. 8 at Mons, Belgium. Photo by Christophe Morel/U.S. Army

March 25 (UPI) -- A group of lawmakers is urging President Joe Biden to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for U.S. troops.

Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., sent a letter to the White House Wednesday along with six other House Democrats, urging Biden to issue a waiver making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for service members, Stars & Stripes and Navy Times reported.

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In February, Pentagon officials told the House Armed Services Committee that as many as one-third of military personnel who have been offered the vaccine have declined to take it.

In December, the advocacy group Blue Star Families published survey results saying 40% of active-duty troops planned to get the vaccine, while 49% planned to decline it and 11% were undecided.

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The Defense Department can't mandate that service members take any of the three vaccines available to Americans because the Food and Drug Administration has only approved them for emergency use.

But the president has the authority to override that regulation, Panetta argued.

"Vaccinating every eligible service member will improve readiness and have an immediate and positive impact on the communities in which they serve," wrote Panetta, who is a Navy veteran. "Requiring DOD to obtain informed consent prior to vaccination is not only harmful to our national security, but contrary to the best interests of service members, their families, communities and colleagues."

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As of Thursday night, the Department of Defense had recorded 262,395 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, including 170,832 among active-duty military members, 48,128 among civilian employees, 26,000 among dependents and 17,435 among contractors.

Of those cases, 321 people have died, 3,784 have been hospitalized and 240,631 have recovered.

It's not clear how many troops have received the vaccine so far, but in early March, the Pentagon announced that 84% of vaccines received by the Defense Department, accounting for 1.3 million doses, have been administered at 335 military installations.

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As of Thursday, 87.3 million Americans -- or 26.3% of the total population -- have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 47.4 million -- 14.3% -- are fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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