80% of Active-Duty Soldiers Will Be Vaccinated by July 4th, Army Surgeon General Pledges

U.S. soldiers in Kuwait pose before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Soldiers with the 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, pose for a photo before receiving their first round of COVID-19 vaccinations on Jan. 26, 2021, at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Medical workers, like these, are the first in the 28th ECAB to receive the vaccinations. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Justin Shaffer)

The Army is well on its way to meeting its goal of having 80% of its active-duty force vaccinated by July 4th, Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, the service's surgeon general, said Monday.

In an online forum sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army, Dingle, who also is commanding general of U.S. Army Medical Command, said the service is in a "full-court press" to reach that goal.

Supply shortages left the Army unable to meet the demand for the vaccine early on, Dingle said. But now, production and distribution have increased and will allow the service to have four out of five soldiers vaccinated in the next three months.

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Dingle was not specific about whether the 80% vaccination goal would include all three of the Army's components. But Army spokeswoman Jackie Wren told Military.com that the July 4 goal deals only with soldiers in the active force, which is currently at 486,000.

As of April 12, the Army has "administered 733,048 COVID-19 vaccination doses at medical treatment facilities in more than 80 locations around the world to servicemembers, families, civilians, contractors, and all other eligible beneficiaries," Wren said in a statement.

Currently, the number of active-duty soldiers who have been vaccinated is unavailable, Wren said.

But while the pace of vaccinations is accelerating nationwide and in the military, so are concerns that skeptics might refuse in large numbers to be vaccinated and endanger efforts to stamp out the pandemic.

CNN on Friday reported that nearly 40% of U.S. Marines have declined to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Army does not uniformly track opt-in rates across installations because the vaccine is not mandatory, Wren said.

Dingle said that Army leadership is helping quell concerns about the vaccine in the ranks. He said the service is seeing a recent uptick in soldiers taking the vaccine across the active duty, Guard and Reserve, though he did not share specific statistics.

From what he's observed as he travels and talks to soldiers, Dingle said, vaccine skepticism usually stems from one of three sources. Some troops come from families that have been hesitant to vaccines, he said. Others have absorbed misinformation about the vaccine from websites, he added, and some are concerned about the history of vaccines in the United States.

The best antidote for such misunderstandings, Dingle said, is for leaders to engage directly with troops "all the way down to the lowest level."

"When our soldiers know better, they do better," he said. "When we give them facts, they do better. When we tell them where to go look to find the information, they do better. As I've engaged with them and talked to them and clarified some of their questions at the lowest level, we've had good results."

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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