The secretary of defense announced that COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory for all service members by mid-September. But social media posts have shared an article from a dubious website that falsely claimed that the leader of the Marines “rebuked” the vaccine mandate. A Marine Corps spokesperson told us “there is no truth” to the claim.
President Joe Biden asked the Department of Defense on July 29 to “look into how and when they will add COVID-19 to the list of vaccinations our armed forces must get,” due to the delta variant of the novel coronavirus causing a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced Aug. 9 that he “will seek the President’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensure, whichever comes first,” after consulting with Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the service secretaries and the rest of the Joint Chiefs.
The next day, a fabricated article appeared on the website of Real Raw News with the headline, “Marines Rebuke Def. Sec.: ‘No Mandatory Vaccinations for My Marines.’” The bogus article claims to have reviewed the transcript of a phone call in which the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger — who serves as one of the Joint Chiefs –“rebuked” the mandate and “lambasted Austin and branded him a traitor.” The article has been shared nearly 8,000 times on Facebook.
The website features a disclaimer on its “About Us” page stating, “Information on this website is for informational and educational and entertainment purposes. This website contains humor, parody, and satire.”
But Berger didn’t “rebuke” the vaccine mandate and, in fact, has encouraged members of the military to get the vaccine.
“There is absolutely no truth to the contents of this article,” a Marine Corps spokesperson told us in an email. “We continue to emphasize the importance of getting the vaccine against COVID-19 as a matter of personal health, force protection, and national security.”
On Dec. 22, 2020, in a photo published in the Marine Corps Times, Berger received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. He also encouraged other Marines to do the same in a video and a tweet, stating, “I received my #COVID19 vaccination today. It was great to see many frontline medical workers getting their shot as well. As the vaccine becomes available, I encourage all Marines and their families to get the shot to slow the spread of the virus.”
As of Aug. 9, 73% of active-duty personnel had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Defense Department officials.
The Department of Defense Immunization Program can require all active-duty personnel to receive certain vaccines. Under certain circumstances, the department can also “administer medical products for force health protection purposes that are not FDA-approved, or not approved for the particular use involved, in accordance with DoDI 6200.02.”
Service members who have religious objections to receiving a vaccine can seek an exception defined by their individual military service’s regulations, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said. There are exemptions for medical reasons as well, including pre-existing medical conditions.
Update, Aug. 23: The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine received full approval from the FDA on Aug. 23 for people 16 years of age and older. At a press conference the same day, Kirby said, “So now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved, the department is prepared to issue updated guidance requiring all service members to be vaccinated.”
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
Athey, Philip. “Commandant, sergeant major of the Marine Corps publicly receive COVID-19 vaccine.” Marine Corps Times. 16 Jan 2021.
Baxter, Michael. “Marines Rebuke Def. Sec.: “No Mandatory Vaccinations for My Marines.” Real Raw News. 10 Aug 2021.
Berger, David H. (@CMC_MarineCorps). “I received my #COVID19 vaccination today. It was great to see many frontline medical workers getting their shot as well. As the vaccine becomes available, I encourage all Marines and their families to get the shot to slow the spread of the virus.” Twitter. 22 Dec 2020.
Garamone, Jim. “Austin Seeks Presidential Approval for Mandatory Troop Vaccinations by Mid-September.” Department of Defense. 9 Aug 2021.
Lopez, Todd C. “Services Will Make Call on Religious Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccines.” Department of Defense. 10 Aug 2021.
U.S. Marines (@USMC). “Get Vaccinated While the #COVID19 vaccine is optional, we encourage Marines to receive it when it is available to them. Meanwhile, @CMC_MarineCorps and @USMCSgtMaj are leading by example to combat the virus.” Twitter. 23 Dec 2020.