Coast Guard, National Guard Bureau Prepping for Mandatory COVID Vaccines

National Guardsman receives the COVID-19 vaccine
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert E. Baker receives the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 10, 2021, on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Benjamin Martinez)

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Air and Army National Guards are prepping for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines when the time comes, service officials said Tuesday.

The Coast Guard, under the Department of Homeland Security, has been following the Pentagon's joint forces vaccination effort since it began last year and will "implement mandatory vaccination for its military personnel when authorized or directed [by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin]," according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt.j.g. Sondra-Kay Kneen.

"Like the rest of the joint force, the Coast Guard is ready to implement mandatory vaccination for its military personnel when authorized or directed by higher authority," Kneen said Tuesday.

Likewise, the National Guard Bureau, which oversees activation of state National Guards on federal orders, will "support any guidance the Secretary of Defense releases," spokesman Wayne Hall said, with the exception of personnel serving on state active-duty orders.

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"All National Guard service members, other than those in State Active Duty, will be subject to any mandatory vaccination directive to the same extent as active component personnel," Hall said Tuesday.

The mandate would apply to nearly all members of the Army or Air National Guard who are in drilling status and are not serving their states in some capacity, such as those called up for firefighting or other duties or manning the state Guards.

National Guard members on state orders are subject to requirements in their states. But in some places, like California, Guardsmen are preparing to follow the governor's order that all state employees must be vaccinated or face weekly testing.

In a memo issued Monday, Austin said he plans to seek authorization to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for military personnel in mid-September or as soon as a vaccine is formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The vaccines used in the U.S. -- made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson -- are currently being distributed under an emergency use authorization, a designation that drugs and medical devices can receive if they have passed safety testing and are needed for conditions for which there are few effective treatments or preventives.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday on Meet the Press that approval for the Pfizer vaccine, the first to be rolled out last December, could come by the end of the month.

In his memo Monday, Austin said he would not "hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President" should the need become more pressing with the increasing number of cases attributed to the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

He added that the services will spend the next several weeks developing plans for implementing a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine program.

As of Aug. 9, nearly 74% of active-duty Coast Guard men and women are fully vaccinated and 76% have had at least one shot, according to Kneen.

The rates of DoD military personnel, including the reserve and National Guard components, with at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose were, as of Aug. 4: 54% for the Army; 75% for the Navy; 60% for the Air Force; and 57% for the Marine Corps.

As of July 28, the Coast Guard had seen 3,164 cases of COVID-19 among active-duty personnel, reserve members and civilian employees, and four deaths -- all among civilian workers.

After seeing the number of new cases decline in the spring -- down to 6,000 new cases in May -- the Defense Department is experiencing a resurgence of the coronavirus, with 11,200 new cases among service members in July.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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