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JBLM Air Force leader says less than half of wing has been vaccinated against COVID-19

U.S. Air Force Reservist Master Sgt. John Barnes, a medical technician with the 446th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to U.S. Air Force Reservist Tech. Sgt. Alexis Righero at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Feb. 6, 2021.

ANN BUTLER/U.S. AIR FORCE

By ABBIE SHULL | The News Tribune | Published: April 14, 2021

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(Tribune News Service) — In an Facebook Live town hhall, the commander of the 62nd Airlift Wing, Col. Erin Staine-Pyne, said about 40% of the population of McChord Field has taken the COVID-19 vaccine.

Staine-Pyne said the 62nd Airlift Wing, the active-duty Air Force component at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, has "seen a few recent outbreaks" but that they've been well-managed.

Active-duty service members, designated as "mission-essential personnel," became eligible to receive the vaccine at Madigan Army Medical Center in early February.

A spokesperson for I Corps said they could not release information about how many soldiers at JBLM have taken the vaccine due to instruction from the Department of Defense.

Federal law prohibits the military from requiring service members to take any vaccine that isn't fully licensed by the Food and Drug Administration. The three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — were approved on "emergency use authorizations," so no service member is required to take one and won't be punished if they decline to take one. Pentagon officials said they are not collecting data on those who decline the vaccine.

In March, a group of six congressional Democrats, including House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Marilyn Strickland, called for making the vaccine a requirement for members of the military in a letter to President Joe Biden. Citing testimony from Pentagon officials last month that about one third of service members are declining the vaccine, the lawmakers asked that Biden issue a "waiver of informed consent" which would make the vaccine mandatory.

Madigan has administered the vaccine to over 55,000 people on JBLM, including service members, their dependents, retired military personnel and civilian employees of the Department of Defense, according to Col. Luke Mease, chief of preventative medicine at Madigan.

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