A group of Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting that he issue a “waiver of informed consent” to make getting vaccinated against Covid-19 mandatory for all US military service members.
CNN obtained a copy of the letter, which was sent on Wednesday from a congressional aide.
Currently the Department of Defense cannot make vaccinations mandatory because they have only been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. A waiver from the President could bypass that rule.
Seven Democratic members of Congress signed the letter, including House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. James McGovern and House Armed Services Committee members Rep. Jimmy Panetta, Rep. Marilyn Strickland, Rep. Sara Jacobs and Rep. Marc Veasey. Rep. Panetta is the son of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Rep. Cindy Axne and Rep. Jahana Hayes, who do not serve on the House Armed Services Committee, also signed the letter.
The Department of Defense has said publicly that the opt-out rate among service members eligible to be vaccinated is about 33%, but last week military officials and service members CNN spoke with from several bases and units across the country suggest the current rejection rate may be closer to 50%.
“I think the true opt-in rate right now would probably be around 50-ish percent,” said a military health care source about numbers on a military base of some 40,000 active duty troops. The source spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss vaccinations.
The letter says “disinformation and vaccine skepticism” are influencing service members to opt out of being vaccinated. It acknowledges that the Pentagon has “made admirable efforts to educate service members on the safety and efficacy” of the vaccines, but says that those measures have been “outpaced by disinformation dominating social media.”
The Defense Department has approximately 2.2 million service members operating around the globe. Last year, the military experienced a handful of high profile outbreaks, including one aboard an aircraft carrier deployed in the Pacific.
Last April, a Covid-19 outbreak on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt spread to more than 20% of the crew on board the aircraft carrier and led to the eventual dismissal of the ship’s captain. In November, more than 100 US military installations around the world put in place some form of tightened health measures to restrict the spread of coronavirus.
“We request you rapidly issue this waiver to give DOD the authority it requires to ensure readiness in the face of current and future threats,” the letter states.
CNN’s Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.