Then why is he acting more like a meandering bureaucrat than a four-star general?
I don’t mean to sound harsh — the Biden administration had plenty of early success with its vaccine program — but there’s a level of foot-dragging going on right now that is totally unacceptable. Lives are at stake and in some respects, the government’s response is downright meandering.
The president has been talking for weeks about whether the Pentagon will mandate vaccinations for its vast workforce. There’s certainly a strong case that military troops should be ordered to get the shots because they serve in close quarters and are deployed in countries where Covid may be raging. And there’s plenty of precedent for soldiers being told to get inoculated, from smallpox to, more recently, anthrax.
But when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday he’s ready to make that move, the administration announced it will happen … eh, maybe in a month, maybe by the end of September.
Why is there no sense of urgency? Why can’t the order take effect immediately? What if some of our military men and women contract the Delta variant during that period and die? What about military readiness? I find it inexplicable.
Only about 64% of our active-duty service members are fully vaccinated, so this is not a theoretical question.
And by the way, Austin works for Biden. It’s called civilian control of the military. Biden should certainly value the retired general’s opinion, but he can overrule his Pentagon chief or, if need be, appoint a new one.
Except it turns out Austin isn’t the problem. He had urged Biden to approve an immediate military mandate, according to The New York Times, “and the president balked.”
Instead, Austin issued a memo saying he’ll “seek” Biden’s agreement in making vaccines mandatory “no later than mid-September” — or “immediately,” if the FDA permanently approves the vaccines.
And that is the other excruciating delay here. What on earth is taking the Food and Drug Administration so long? The agency has in effect given the green light for 160 million Americans to take these shots. Anthony Fauci says the lack of permanent approval is a “technicality” and everyone should act like it’s already happened — even as many of the unvaccinated cite that as a reason for their hesitancy. Even Fauci grumbled on MSNBC that the FDA has its own way of doing things.
Biden said Tuesday that “God willing, the FDA is going to be coming out in a reasonable timeframe to say this vaccine is totally safe.”
Reasonable timeframe? Now I understand that Biden, who portrayed Donald Trump as anti-science, doesn’t want to be seen as meddling with the FDA’s approval process. But it’s not like the agency (which doesn’t have a permanent head) is saying the vaccines are unsafe and the president wants to overrule the experts. They are just moving at a molasses-like pace.
Sometimes presidents have to push government officials to do their job more quickly. It’s a travesty that it’s taken this long. And now it’s delaying vaccine mandates for millions of soldiers and Pentagon staffers.
If FDA officials have doubts about the vaccines, they ought to say so now, because the country — and the world — are depending on their judgment. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.
The massive Pentagon was built in 16 months because we were in a war. This is a war too, and the president needs to move quickly to demand some answers.