A high-ranking military official on Wednesday said that a third of service members have declined to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
During a House hearing on the Armed Forces’ response to COVID-19, Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersOvernight Defense: Pentagon, Congress appoint panel members to rename Confederate bases | Military approves 20 more coronavirus vaccination teams Pentagon, Congress appoint panel members to rename Confederate base names Katko calls for bipartisanship on cyber issues as threats intensify MORE (R-Ala.) asked Maj. Gen Jeff Taliaferro, Vice Director for Operations, what percentage of service members have declined to receive the vaccine.
“I think our initial look — and this is of course very early data — is acceptance rates are somewhere in the two-thirds territory, and of course it varies by different groups,” Taliaferro said.
Rogers followed up by asking if the service members who were not vaccinated were deployable.
Taliaferro stated non-immunized service members were deployable, saying the “services and commands” that have been set up over the past year have allowed the Armed Forces to operate in a “COVID environment.”
Maj. Gen. Steven Nordhaus confirmed in the same hearing that vaccinations were voluntary for military members.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in January asked the Department of Defense (DoD) to help in distributing and administering coronavirus vaccines at FEMA sites, with up to 3,700 troops on standby to help with immunizations.
However, the DoD has so far not disclosed how many service members have been vaccinated. In early February, Military Times reported that the DoD has made it a policy to not report branch affiliations of those who have received the vaccine.
Pentagon officials had previously insisted that it did not know how many service members had refused to get the vaccine as it doesn’t have a system in place to track that information because the program is voluntary.
“It’s not the kind of thing that we’re centrally tracking here, that [the office of the secretary of Defense] has a database that we can just go pull from. That’s not the case right now,” Kirby told reporters earlier this month.
DoD has also made it a policy to not report branch affiliations of those who have received the vaccine, Military Times reported in early February.
Kirby later on Wednesday pushed back on claims that officials are hiding information, saying again that the Defense Department doesn’t have a centralized system in place to track how many service members have declined the vaccine.
“We don’t have a system in place across each of the services to specifically track data with respect to those individuals who, for whatever reason, are declining or deferring the vaccine.”
He said officials at the House hearing were citing broad data on vaccine acceptance rates that “mirror” trends in American society, and that the officials went on to say that it is not data that they are specifically following.
He also insisted that the Pentagon is not making any attempt to hide information on the number of troops who are deciding not to get vaccinated.
“Nobody is hiding data,” Kirby said. “There’d be no reason for us to hide data when we can certainly tell you how exactly many people are getting the vaccines.”
Ellen Mitchell contributed
— Updated 6:01 p.m.