Civilian Defense Department employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Osan Air Base, South Korea, March 12, 2021.

Civilian Defense Department employees receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Osan Air Base, South Korea, March 12, 2021. (Noah Sudolcan/U.S. Air Force)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — All Korean civilians employed by the U.S. military in South Korea are required to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Nov. 22, according to a U.S. Forces Korea memo obtained by Stars and Stripes.

The Oct. 13 memo, signed by foreign labor program director Lebanon Spann, cites President Joe Biden’s executive order last month requiring all U.S. federal employees to be vaccinated “to ensure the health and safety of the federal workforce and members of the public with whom they interact."

“The health and safety of the federal workforce, and the health and safety of members of the public with whom they interact, are foundational to the efficiency of the civil service,” Biden’s executive order said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “has found that the best way to do so is to be vaccinated.”

Korean employees are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second shot of a two-dose regimen, or two weeks after receiving a one-dose vaccine, according to the memo. It says employees “should be prepared” to have proof of their vaccination status before Nov. 8.

The memo said information will be “forthcoming” for those with medical or religious exemptions.

A USFK’s spokesman, Army Col. Lee Peters, told Stars and Stripes in an emailed statement Monday “the vaccines are proven to be highly effective,” and that “the protection of the USFK community remains our #1 priority.”

"We follow all U.S. government and Department of Defense directives regarding COVID-19 mandatory vaccines for our service members, [Defense Department] civilians and contractors, including our Korean National workforce," Peters wrote.

Roughly 12,500 South Koreans are employed by the U.S. military, according to the Korean Employees Union. The employees, who work in a wide range of fields on U.S. military bases, had been offered a free vaccine by the Defense Department on a priority basis.

Over 85% of USFK personnel have been vaccinated as of Oct. 15, according to the command’s latest update on coronavirus infections on Friday, which added that less than 1% of its active-duty force was confirmed positive with COVID-19.

Nearly 65% of South Koreans have been fully vaccinated and 78% received their first dose of a vaccine, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said in an update last week. The country reported 1,050 new coronavirus cases Monday, down from an all-time high of 3,273 cases last month.

The Nov. 22 deadline in the memo is the same date for all U.S. federal employees to be vaccinated. Over 322,400 Defense Department civilians are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus while another 47,200 received a first dose, according to a public update last week from the department.

Those reported figures are still less than half of the department’s civilian workforce and pose a challenge in the Pentagon’s push amid the looming deadline.

“Our civilian workers here, they take their jobs very seriously,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters during a briefing Tuesday. “They take their obligations to their families and to their co-workers very seriously, and I think we have every expectation that they, too, will continue to seek and pursue getting vaccinated.”

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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