August 25, 2021
Pentagon press secretary Admiral John Kirby suggested Wednesday that troops objecting to mandatory coronavirus vaccines might require counseling.
Kirby said during a press briefing that there would be exceptions to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s vaccine mandate across all branches of the Armed Forces, but that anyone who objected for reasons outside very specific parameters would be subject to counseling from both medical professionals and their chain of command.
Kirby began by noting that, since the Pfizer vaccine had gotten full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the military was moving ahead with the vaccination process.
“What the Secretary has communicated to the military departments is to execute this mandatory vaccination program with skill and professionalism which we always do but with a measure of compassion,” Kirby said, noting that allowances would certainly be made for religious exemptions and for those with pre-existing conditions that precluded vaccinations.
“But if it’s an objection outside those two frameworks, the individual will be offered a chance to sit down with a physician and have that physician communicate to them the risks that they are taking by continuing to not want to take the vaccine,” Kirby continued. “They will also be offered a chance to sit down with their chain of command and their leadership to talk about the risks that their objection will impose on the unit and on the force and on their teammates.”
“The commanders have a wide range of tools available to them to help their teammates make the right decision for themselves, for their families, and for their units,” Kirby added, saying that he fully expected commanders would use every tool available to ensure that as many troops as possible received the vaccine.
“If the service member goes through the counseling, doesn’t have a religious objection and still objects and refuses to get the vaccine,” a reporter pressed, asking whether Commanders would invoke the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to discipline those who continued to object.
“Commanders have a lot of tools available to them short of using the UCMJ,” Kirby replied. “We’re going to trust that the commanders will make the right decision going forward.”
“So they’ll get like an NJP?” the reporter asked, referencing “non-judicial punishment” — which is used in the military to “discipline service members for minor offenses such as reporting late for duty, petty theft, destroying government property, sleeping on watch, providing false information, and disobeying standing orders.”
“I can’t give you an exact answer to every hypothetical situation,” Kirby responded. “There are — it is — once you mandate it, as we’ve done, it is a lawful order. It’s a lawful order, and we fully anticipate that our troops are going to follow lawful orders,” he concluded.