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Malmstrom AFB begins implementing COVID vaccine mandate

Col. Mark Pomerinke, 341st Medical Group commander, receives the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations given to medical personnel and first responders.
COVID vaccinations administered by DoD
Senior Airmen Lauren Lacaprara, left, and Bayli Moore, 341st Healthcare Operations Squadron medical material technicians, open a shipment of delivered COVID-19 vaccines
Posted at 2:25 PM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 16:25:40-04

GREAT FALLS — On Saturday, August 28, Malmstrom Air Force Base began implementing new guidance from the Department of Defense regarding COVID vaccinations.

The new policy calls for the vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine of all service members who have not already received an Emergency Use Authorized (EUA) vaccine.

Colonel Anita Feugate Opperman, commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom, said in a news release: “The health and resilience of our service members is a matter of readiness. In order to look out for the well-being of our Airmen and our Wing’s mission, our installation will become compliant with this guidance as efficiently as possible.”

Malmstrom began vaccinating military personnel in late December 2020.

Colonel Mark Pomerinke, the commander of the 341st Medical Group, was one of the first to receive the vaccine, and said at the time, “We’re glad to begin taking this next step forward in our ongoing pandemic effort. Our team has done an outstanding job this past year of providing for the needs of our military members, their families and the local retiree population. We had been preparing for the vaccine’s arrival, and now that it’s here we are excited to begin distribution.”

The mandate, sent in a memorandum from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on August 24, followed the FDA’s formal licensure of the Pfizer-BioNTech COMIRNATY COVID-19 vaccine on August 23, 2021.

"Mandatory vaccinations are familiar to all of our Service members, and mission-critical inoculation is almost as old as the U.S. military itself," Austin wrote. "Our administration of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines has produced admirable results to date, and I know the Department of Defense will come together to finish the job, with urgency, professionalism, and compassion."

Austin said in the memo that service members who have received Moderna or J&J vaccines will still be considered fully vaccinated, but service members who have previously been infected with the coronavirus are not considered fully inoculated.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said last week that 68% of active-duty service members are fully vaccinated, and more than 76% have received one dose.

COVID vaccinations administered by DoD

Service members with medical conditions who are advised against being vaccinated by their doctors would be exempt from mandatory vaccinations, Kirby said, adding there may also be possible exemptions on religious grounds.

Service members outside those two categories who still object will be offered a chance to talk with a physician and have that physician communicate to them the risks that they're taking by being unvaccinated, Kirby said.

They'll also be offered a chance to talk with those in their chains of command to talk about the risks that their objection will impose on the unit and on the force and on their teammates, he added.

"Commanders have a wide range of tools available to them to help their teammates make the right decision for themselves, for their families, and for their units, and the secretary expects that the commanders will use those tools, short of having to use the UCMJ," he said, referring to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.