Navy commander in Japan expects a fully vaccinated force ahead of Nov. 28 deadline
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – All active-duty sailors stationed ashore in Japan should be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus well ahead of the Navy’s 90-day deadline, according to the commander of Naval Forces Japan.
Rear Adm. Carl Lahti, who also commands Navy Region Japan, recently told Stars and Stripes that while he can’t predict when his command will reach 100%, he expects that to happen sooner than the Nov. 28 deadline, due in part to vaccine availability.
“We’re actually in the process of administering vaccinations right now, and we believe we have enough vaccine in-country and pushed to our medical clinics to be able to complete them right now,” he said.
Naval Forces Japan spokeswoman Cmdr. Katie Cerezo told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday that she was not authorized to say what percentage of all U.S. sailors in Japan are currently vaccinated.
Lahti said a high percentage of active-duty and civilian personnel in Japan were already vaccinated ahead of the Navy secretary’s mandate, a fact he said contributes to the low number of active coronavirus cases at Navy installations in Japan. Naval Forces Japan accounts for about 6,000 of the approximately 54,000 U.S. military personnel in the country, according to U.S. Forces Japan.
“We’ve been able to manage the infection rate, predominantly due to our vaccination rate,” Lahti said. “Although we’re still experiencing some cases, it’s much lower than other communities and not providing an impact on operations.”
Yokosuka Naval Base reported 38 active cases on Tuesday, Naval Air Facility Atsugi reported five cases on Monday and Sasebo Naval Base reported 19 on Friday.
While controversy around the vaccine has continued to flare up in the United States, Lahti said there’s been no “large-scale resistance” to the Navy’s mandate. He also acknowledged the importance of discussing vaccine concerns with medical professionals.
“Anything dealing with your health is really an individual one-on-one thing between you and your medical provider,” he said. “We’re strongly encouraging sailors to talk to their individual medical providers about the vaccine and understanding the importance of getting the vaccine and why we would make it mandatory.”
Lahti’s timeline follows an administrative message from Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro issued on Aug. 30, which gave active-duty sailors and Marines 90 days to be fully vaccinated. Reservists were given 120 days.
The order followed a similar mandate from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who on Aug. 24 instructed all services to move toward vaccinating their troops as soon as possible. Lloyd’s order was given just one day after the Food and Drug Administration granted approval to the two-shot Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.