WASHINGTON – Americans who join the military understand the loss of personal freedom. Many of their daily activities are prescribed, as are their hairstyles, clothing, and personal behavior.
When it comes to taking a coronavirus vaccine, many troops – especially younger staff as opposed to their officers – see a rare opportunity to exercise free will.
“The Army tells me what, how and when to do almost everything,” said Sgt. Tracey Carroll, who is stationed at Fort Sill, an Army Post in Oklahoma. “You finally asked me to do something, and I actually have a choice, so I said no.”
Sergeant Carroll, 24, represents a broad group of military personnel – a largely young, healthy group of Americans from all over the nation – who refuse to get the shot, which is currently optional for the staff. You raise a number of political and health concerns.
That reluctance among the younger forces, however, warns civil health officials of the possible gap in immunity that medical professionals believe is required for Americans to reclaim their collective life.
“Ultimately, our military is our society,” he said Dr. Michael S. Weiner, the former Department of Defense chief medical officer who now holds the same role for Maximus, a government contractor and technology company. “They have the same social media, the same families, the same problems that society as a whole has.”
About a third of troops on active duty or in the National Guard have refused to take the vaccine, military officials recently told Congress. In some countries, such as Fort Bragg, NC, the largest military facility in the country, acceptance rates are below 50 percent.
“We thought we were in a better place for the opt-in rate,” said Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesman for Fort Bragg, one of the first military sites to offer the vaccine.
While Pentagon officials say they don’t collect specific data on those who oppose the vaccine, there is broad consensus that rejection rates are far higher among younger members and that the staff deployed are more likely to say no than officials. Military spouses seem to share this reluctance: In a December poll Of 674 active family members run by Blue Star Families, a military advocacy group, 58 percent said they would not allow their children to receive the vaccine.
For many troops, the reluctance reflects the concern of civilians who have stated in various public health surveys that they will not take the vaccine. Many fear that the vaccines are unsafe or that they were developed too quickly.
Some of the concerns stem from misinformation prevalent on Facebook and other social media, including the false rumor that the vaccine contained a microchip to monitor recipients, permanently disabled the body’s immune system, or was a form of government control.
In a way, vaccines are the new masks: a preventative measure against the politicized virus.
There are many service members like Sergeant Carroll, officials said, citing the rare opportunity to avoid a vaccine among the many required, especially for those used overseas.
Young non-military Americans who believe they shouldn’t worry about getting seriously ill with the coronavirus are likely to adopt their own version of defiance, especially in the face of confusing and sometimes conflicting information about how much protection the Vaccine actually offers.
“I don’t think anyone likes to be told what to do,” said Dr. Weiner. “There’s a line in American DNA that says, ‘Just tell me what to do so I know what to push back. “
Other troops cite the anthrax vaccine, the was believed to cause adverse effects in the military in the late 1990s, as evidence that the military should not be on the forefront of a new vaccine.
In many cases, the reasons for rejection include all of the above.
A 24-year-old first class aviator in Virginia said she refused the shot despite being a paramedic like many in her squadron. She shared her views on condition of anonymity as, like most recruited members, she is not allowed to speak to the news media without official permission.
“I would prefer not to be the one to test this vaccine,” she explained in an email. She also said she was more skeptical because access to vaccines had become a campaign topic for the White House during the 2020 race, adding that some of her colleagues had told her they would rather part with the military than that Taking vaccine, if so, is compulsory.
The military has offered the vaccine to senior workers, troops on the medical front, emergency response and responders, some contractors who fall into these groups, and some members of troops on active duty.
Hundreds of thousands of people in these categories have received recordings so far.
Unlike many other vaccinations, the vaccine is currently not required by the military because it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. Once it is a standard approved vaccine, the military can order the troops to fire the shot.
The widespread fear of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness has frustrated military officials.
“There is a lot of misinformation,” Robert G. Salesses, deputy assistant secretary of defense, told members of the Senate Armed Forces Committee on Thursday. A member of the committee, Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan, suggested that military personnel who oppose vaccines should “risk an entire community” where bases are located.
While military leaders insist that vaccine adoption rates increase as safety information continues to circulate, officials and stakeholders strive to improve rates and hold briefing sessions with health care leaders like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In some cases, health care workers will contact those who oppose the vaccine to investigate their reasons.
This week the Army held live meetings on Facebook with senior officers to get the message across that the vaccine was a blessing, and hundreds of commentators consistently resisted. “This vaccine has not been proven to save lives,” wrote one person.
The concern is felt at the top of the Pentagon leadership. On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III posted a video that said, “You know, I took it myself.”
“After speaking to my doctor, I felt it was right, not just for my health, but also for my ability to do the job and contribute to our readiness,” said Austin.
Many public health experts say that such high-profile appeals may be the least effective method of convincing groups that they suspect government or authority figures.
“Many crews watch an admiral get a shot and say,” I don’t see myself in you at this point in my life, “remarked Dr. Weiner.” I appreciate you got a vaccine, but this am not me. “
Staff Sgt. Jack Jay, who is stationed at a military base at Fort Jackson, Columbia, S.C., has heard all sorts of fear, suspicion, and savage conspiracy theories from his colleagues – and has tried to gently share his own views.
“The reasons range from politics to the history of unproven research, and because of our age range and health, we are not a high-risk hospital population,” said Sergeant Jay, 33, who has already fired his shot.
“The best I can do is respect the other person’s reasons, even if I disagree,” he said. “However, if any of my colleagues make false statements as if they were true, I will challenge them to back up their reasoning with legitimate sources.”
The thread of politics that runs through these discussions complicates the conversation, Sergeant Jay said, and mirrors those he sees on Facebook and elsewhere outside the military.
“The army is just a good barometer of what is most likely going to happen at the national level at this moment, given our country’s thought processes,” he said.
When making decisions, “the biggest factor is knowing someone who received the vaccine,” said Jennifer Akin, director of applied research at Blue Star Families. “There are so many narratives that it is hard to know what to do. We try to provide people with trustworthy information from trustworthy sources.”