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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks to service members about the coronavirus vaccine in this screenshot of a video released by the Pentagon, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks to service members about the coronavirus vaccine in this screenshot of a video released by the Pentagon, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Department of Defense)

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has a message for the roughly one in three service members who are declining vaccination against the coronavirus.

“I hope that you’ll consider accepting it when it’s offered to you,” he said Wednesday.

Austin’s gentle entreaty, coming in a video posted online, follows a Pentagon official who told the House Armed Services Committee last week that about one-third of all U.S. service members had turned down inoculation when offered it.

In the video, Austin offered his personal testament on vaccination.

“You know, I’ve taken it myself,” he said. “After talking with my doctor, I believed it was the right thing to do, not only for my health, but also for my ability to do the job and to contribute to our readiness.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines — from Pfizer and Moderna — on an “emergency use” basis for the coronavirus, and for that reason vaccination has remained voluntary for members of the armed forces.

About 147,000 service members had been fully vaccinated as of the House hearing on Feb. 17.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of staff, told the House committee that the rate of refusal was equally high among service members in high-priority categories such as strategic forces, health care workers and those set to deploy.

The vaccines have been the subject of widespread online misinformation and hoaxes. In recent weeks, the plethora of web pages and Facebooks sites maintained by U.S. military units have been crammed with photos of service members dutifully rolling up sleeves for shots – a seeming effort to reduce resistance to vaccination among the rank and file.

Taliaferro advocated military leadership take a more active role in educating the armed forces in the value of the vaccinations, and Austin was apparently taking that advice in posting the video.

Austin assured viewers that the Defense Department had approached the vaccination effort “deliberately and in phases, making sure that we prioritized our front-line health care workers, and our deploying troops and those most vulnerable, but as we continue to advance through these phases, we want to make sure that all of you have the information that you need to make the best decisions for your families.”

Austin encouraged service members to visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better understand how the vaccines were engineered, produced and tested.

“[Y]ou’ll see that these vaccines have undergone intensive safety monitoring,” he said. “You’ll see that they are safe, and they are effective. And you’ll see that millions of your fellow citizens have already taken them with little to no side effects.

“But I encourage you to have a discussion with your primary care physician about taking the vaccine,” Austin said. “And if you believe, as I did, that it’s the right thing for you, I hope that you’ll consider accepting it when it’s offered to you.”

olson.wyatt@stripes.com Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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