News-Miner opinion: Alaska’s military, along with all U.S. troops, will be getting the coronavirus vaccine by next month under a new Pentagon order to inoculate American troops, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced. He says the shots no longer will be voluntary.
The Department of Defense’s mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations will be added to the lengthy list of inoculations already given the military, and could be added sooner if the infection rate begins to affect the military’s readiness. Austin, with the support of President Joe Biden, said the new vaccine requirement goes into effect Sept. 15, but could be implemented sooner if the Food and Drug Administration fully authorizes the vaccine. The shots now are allowed for emergency use while full approval is pending.
The order will affect Fort Wainwright, with its population of about 15,000, including 6,500 military members and their families, along with support personnel and contractors, and Eielson Air Force Base’s population of 3,229.
While there unsurprisingly is some grumbling about Austin’s mandate, it should be expected as it goes with the job. It is difficult to defend the nation, after all, when you are flat on your back in the hospital.
The Pentagon says more than 1 million troops are fully vaccinated and another 237,000 have received one shot, according to U.S. News & World Report. But vaccination rates differ by branch. The Navy says more than 74 percent of its active duty and reserve sailors have received at least one shot. The Air Force says more than 65 percent of its active duty force and 60 percent of its reserves are at least partially vaccinated, and the Army’s rate appears closer to 50 percent.
Mandated military inoculations certainly are nothing new. They have been administered for more than 230 years. Nowadays, they begin in basic training, and additional vaccinations are given based on overseas assignments and working conditions.
The Continental Army, under Commander-in-Chief George Washington, was immunized against smallpox by variolation — exposing someone to smallpox — after half of the army’s 10,000 soldiers around Quebec contracted smallpox. A vaccine was not developed until 1796. Since, American troops at various times have been inoculated against yellow fever, adenovirus, plague, anthrax, cholera, measles, mumps, polio and a host of other diseases. Today, depending upon their assignments, they can receive as many as 17 different inoculations.
The vaccinations have kept America’s fighting forces in the field defending the country and safe from debilitating or deadly disease.
That is not a bad thing.