The risk the pandemic poses to U.S. armed forces was made clear early on in the pandemic when the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt was idled due to rampant onboard spread of the virus. But the ship’s captain was relieved of duty after messages he wrote pleading to his superiors for help in quarantining his crew—messages that embarrassed a Trump White House that had been working aggressively to downplay the significance of the pandemic.
Embarrassing to the White House or not, the incident drove home how quickly the COVID-19 virus could disrupt military operations reliant on crews working in close quarters and for long periods of time.
Those dangers have not yet abated. The delta variant of the virus appears to be significantly more contagious than previous iterations, allowing it to spread even more quickly. It appears to have the ability to sometimes spread even among asymptomatic, vaccinated hosts, further increasing the risk to the unvaccinated.
With many millions of vaccinations now completed, there continues to be vanishingly few reported cases of serious side effects, and full approval of multiple COVID-19 vaccines now appears almost certain. The military, much like the other federal agencies grappling with the effects of the pandemic, must now decide whether the possibility that future side effects will be discovered outweighs the known serious risks of COVID-19 infection now.
But the two risks have this point have been well documented and aren’t even comparable, so it’s almost certain that the military will, indeed, issue orders for mandatory vaccinations on the speediest possible timeline. Losing soldiers to a pandemic is expensive, if nothing else. The military does not train top-notch experts in narrow but vital fields for those experts to be done in by an enemy smaller than a mote of dust. There’s simply no plausible justification for not requiring the COVID-19 vaccine (and, likely, future boosters) to the list of already mandated vaccines that keep measles, chickenpox, and other potentially deadly superspreaders at bay. Austin’s speed on this one suggests that the military is keen on getting this done as soon as possible.