US Military Members Balk at Taking Experimental COVID-19 Vaccine

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U.S. troops and Department of Defense (DOD) staff are refusing to take the experimental COVID-19 vaccine for the mRNA novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), according to reports by the Washington Examiner. 

Air Force Brigadier General Paul Friedrichs said at a Pentagon briefing on Jan. 28: “In general, the trends are very similar to what we’re seeing in the U.S. population as a whole, that the older population has been more willing to take the vaccine.” Friedrichs said the younger population, by comparison, was “a bit more hesitant about it, and, you know, I think that’s understandable.”

Because the existing vaccines are approved for use under a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Emergency Use Authorization and have not undergone Phase III testing, the Pentagon cannot require troops and employees to take the jab. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine that pass RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) instructions to your body’s cells, causing your own body to synthesize the Spike Protein of the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus. The Spike Protein is what gives a coronavirus its distinct “crown” shape, and its ability to attach to and enter cells. The thesis with mRNA vaccines is that your body will create lymphocytes in response to the Spike Protein, providing you with immunity from COVID-19, wherein your cells will break down and eliminate the mRNA afterward without issue.

Conventional vaccines, by comparison, work by injecting a weakened or inert form of a virus into your body, causing lymphocyte production in response. 

While the Pentagon has declined to state how many members have declined the vaccine, the DOD only distributed 320,000 of the approximately 769,000 doses it received. 

According to Voice of America, U.S. forces located in South Korea expressed considerable skepticism and reluctance to get vaccinated. “When we initially did our screening to get an idea of who wants and doesn’t want it, there was a pretty good number of people who said, hey I don’t want it,” said spokesperson Colonel Lee Peters. 

VOA reported the military rolled out education campaigns to “combat disinformation” about the vaccines, such as having senior officers take the jab. On Jan. 8, Major General Michael Lutton was photographed taking the vaccine in an attempt to encourage troops to get vaccinated. 

Major General Michael Lutton, 20th Air Force commander, receives the COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 8, 2020, at the base theater on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.
Major General Michael Lutton, 20th Air Force commander, receives the COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 8, 2020, at the base theater on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. (Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Darius Frazier)

“I think we’re hitting about the right tone, with not ceding the battlefield to the conspiracy theorists, getting the information out there, but on the other hand not being overbearing or strong-arming people,” said lead medical officer for U.S. Forces Korea Col. Doug Lougee. 

According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Military has experienced 139,909 cases with 1,298 hospitalizations and 17 deaths out of approximately 1.3 million active-duty members. 

According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Military has experienced 139,909 cases with 1,298 hospitalizations and 17 deaths out of approximately 1.3 million active-duty members.
According to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Military has experienced 139,909 cases with 1,298 hospitalizations and 17 deaths out of approximately 1.3 million active-duty members. (Image: US Department of Defense (Defense.gov))

Stars and Stripes reported on Jan. 23 that Afghanistan-based troops began receiving doses of the Moderna vaccine for the remaining 2,500 troops and 18,000 contractors still stationed in the region. According to the article, officials declined to discuss infection rates in Afghanistan, citing an order from the Pentagon to not discuss local case figures.

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  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.