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Military considers making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory

The change could be made if the FDA decides to move from emergency authorization to full approval for the anti-coronavirus shots.

WASHINGTON — COVID-19 vaccines are voluntary for the nation's 1.4 million military members.

But, that could change.

Nearly 69 percent of the active force has received at least one dose of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.

Participation among the branches is varied. The Navy currently leads the way with 77 percent of sailors having gotten at least one dose. The Army is second with 70 percent, followed by 61 percent for the Air Force and 58 percent for the Marine Corps.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says the Defense Department is getting ready, just in case things change.

"Right now it's being used under Emergency Use Authorization, which makes it a voluntary vaccine," he said. "Should the FDA approve it, then I am certain that Pentagon leadership will take a look at what our options are going forward, including the potential option of making mandatory."

Kirby added: "There's been some preliminary discussion at senior levels within the department to think about what the next steps would be if and when FDA approval comes in. We're a planning organization. I don't think that should surprise anybody."

But Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) has tweeted that he has heard from military members who said they'd quit if the vaccine were to be required.

He said he has gotten 24 co-sponsors for his bill that would "prohibit any mandatory requirement that a member of the armed forces receive a vaccination against COVID-19."

According to the DOD, among the active-duty military force, to date, more than 201,000 service members have had confirmed cases of COVID-19. Twenty-six have died.