MONTEREY — The Presidio of Monterey, along with all other Defense Department employees, will be mandated to be vaccinated for COVID-19, a move advocated by Rep. Jimmy Panetta since March.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin informed DOD employees in a memo Monday that he would be seeking President Joe Biden’s approval of the requirement to go into effect by mid-September or upon full approval of the vaccines by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Required vaccinations are nothing new to the military,” said James Laughlin, a Presidio of Monterey spokesman. “As Secretary Austin said, ‘We are confident the men and women of our military — even the ones who have been hesitant — will comply with this requirement, just as they do when given any other mission-essential order.’ ”
Laughlin added that should a member of the military decline to be vaccinated, the Presidio of Monterey will make available to them a full range of resources to include professional medical advice to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
“We want our people to be fully informed about any medical procedure, including this vaccine,” said Laughlin. “If counseling and informal efforts fail to convince, a service member’s chain of command could, as a last resort, take appropriate administrative or disciplinary action. But we view it as highly unlikely that commanders will find it necessary to take action under the (Uniform Code of Military Justice).”
A service member may be exempt from the vaccination requirement for reasons of religious accommodation or if the service member has a health issue for which a vaccination is contraindicated, as determined by a DOD physician, said Laughlin.
The California Medical Detachment at the Presidio of Monterey says it has created a plan and it is now waiting for leadership approval. It is also looking into the cold chain management for the necessary refrigeration levels needed for the Pfizer vaccine in case it gains FDA approval first.
Biden said in a statement on Monday that he strongly supports Austin’s message to the force and the plan to add the COVID-19 vaccine “to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September.”
Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, had started advocating for a waiver of informed consent to require vaccines for all military service members since March when he, and a number of colleagues, sent a letter to Biden emphasizing the need for personnel vaccination to bolster military readiness and protect national security interests.
“I’m pleased that President Biden and Secretary Austin decided to require vaccines for our uniformed military members,” said Panetta. “As I made clear in my letter earlier this year, U.S. Military personnel must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to ensure readiness and set a positive example for the rest of the country. This move by Secretary Austin underscores how serious we are about protecting our troops, putting this pandemic behind us, and preserving our national security.”
The letter to Biden pointed to the need for personnel vaccination and highlighted the impact of disinformation and vaccine skepticism in slowing down the existing Pentagon vaccination effort.
“(Department of Defense) has made admirable efforts to educate service members on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines,” Panetta’s letter read. “Yet, these measures have been outpaced by disinformation dominating social media. The most effective tool the Department may utilize to ensure widespread vaccination is a mandate. The DoD’s mandatory vaccination system has been used safely and effectively for nearly all mission-essential Food and Drug Administration approved drugs, including vaccinations against smallpox and anthrax.”
The missive was led by Panetta and joined by Rep. James McGovern, Rep. Marilyn Strickland, Rep. Sara Jacobs, Rep. Marc Veasey, Rep. Cindy Axne, and Rep. Jahana Hayes.
According to the California Medical Detachment at the Presidio of Monterey, about 5,400 individuals at the presidio have been fully vaccinated by its internal COVID-19 vaccination drives, and that does not include “the substantial number of folks that have also gone into the community to get vaccinated.”
DOD data shows 1,061,952 service members are fully vaccinated out of about 1.4 million active-duty members, while 300,319 DOD civilian workers are fully vaccinated out of about 718,000. About 800 presidio personnel are partially vaccinated.
Monterey County’s case rate is 8.9 per 100,000 and its current test positivity rate is 4.9%, up 0.9 percentage points over last week.
Contributed by local news sources