California National Guardsmen will be ordered to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by early August or face regular testing, Military.com has learned. The mandate comes despite the fact that the Defense Department does not have a vaccination requirement for the rest of the force.
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced California will require all state employees to be vaccinated or face a weekly testing. That will include the state’s National Guard, for which Newsom serves as its commander-in-chief, a spokesman for the Guard confirmed Tuesday.
“The California Military Department, which includes the California Army and Air National Guard and the California State Guard, will fully comply with and implement the Governor’s directive on regular COVID-19 testing for those not vaccinated and vaccination verification of those who are,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma, a spokesman for the California Guard, told Military.com in a statement.
The news comes as concerns mount that cases of the highly contagious Delta variant are exploding among the large number of unvaccinated Americans.
It is unclear how Guard commanders will enforce regular testing for the unvaccinated, given that troops typically train one weekend a month.
Right now, service members are not mandated to get vaccinated against COVID-19. However, the Pentagon is moving toward requiring it once the shots are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday hinted at a mandate, saying it’s “under consideration” for all federal employees to be vaccinated. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a vaccine mandate for many of its employees on Monday.
Newsom’s plan, which is the first of its kind among the states, takes effect on Aug. 2, according to a release from the governor’s office.
It is unclear how many guardsmen are vaccinated. Data obtained by Military.com shows that as of last week, only 30% of the National Guard is fully vaccinated.
However, the data is likely inaccurate given the Guard has no solid way to track which of its members are vaccinated. There’s no evidence to suggest guardsmen are more or less likely to get inoculated, compared to the average vaccinations in their respective parts of the country. As of Tuesday, 56.9% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The National Guard have offered vaccines to troops at training events and missions such as the response to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Yet, many troops likely are getting shots from civilian clinics or the VA, sources for shots that don’t track, likely explaining the low numbers.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said two weeks ago that 70% of the active-duty force, across all branches, have received at least one dose.
— Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.