Aug. 9 (UPI) -- The U.S. military is planning to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for all troops by mid-September.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo to troops Monday he had consulted with military leaders and medical professionals about the mandate and plans to ask President Joe Biden by mid-September to approve it.
"Based on these consultations and additional discussions with leaders of the White House COVID Task Force, I want you to know that I will seek the president's approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Agency licensure, whichever comes first," Austin said in the memo.
President Joe Biden said in a statement, also on Monday, that he "strongly support[s]" Austin's plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations.
"Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible," Biden said. "These vaccines will save lives. Period. They are safe. They are effective."
Pentagon John Kirby told reporters during a press conference that Austin plans to make the request by mid-September but he may move sooner if the Food and Drug Administration gives licensure to the vaccines, which have so far only received emergency use status. To mandate their administration by the Pentagon, Austin requires a presidential waiver unless they have been approved by the FDA.
In the meantime, he said, the Pentagon will be developing policies to comply with Biden's direction that the unvaccinated will have to be subjected to certain requirements and restrictions.
"We're working hard on what will be a policy directive to come in the coming days, that will make it clear what those requirements and restrictions are and how they apply to everybody in the DOD workforce, including uniformed personnel," he said.
In the memo, Austin didn't rule out acting sooner if needed given the rise of the Delta variant.
"To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force," Austin said in the memo. "I strongly encourage all DoD military and civilian personnel -- as well as contractor personnel -- to get vaccinated now and for military service members to not wait for the mandate."
He added that public reporting suggests the FDA could fully license the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by early next month.
In general, active-duty troops have a higher vaccination rate than the U.S. population.
Half of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated to date, according to Bloomberg COVID-19 Tracker, and 58.7% have received at least one dose.
Austin tweeted last month that 70% of active-duty troops have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine and that 62% of active-duty service members were fully vaccinated.
Those vaccination rates lagged behind the Pentagon's goal earlier this year for all troops to be fully vaccinated by last month, Military.com reported.
In the military alone, over 1 million service members and 299,050 Department of Defense civilian employees have been fully vaccinated, according to the Pentagon.
Since the pandemic began, there have been over 300,000 COVID-19 cases and 385 deaths among military personnel, civilians, dependents and contractors, Pentagon totals show.