Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered over 800,000 service members to get their COVID-19 vaccination immediately.

In a memo to service leaders obtained by the Associated Press, Austin said that they needed to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation” of the COVID vaccine for military troops.

While no direct timeline was provided in the memo, regular progress reports will need to be provided on inoculations, the memo said, according to the AP.

“To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Austin said in the memo.

“After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the president, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease ... is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people,” he continued.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Wednesday in a news conference, “The secretary has made clear his expectation to the military departments that he wants them to move with some alacrity here and get the force fully vaccinated as fast as possible.”

Kirby continued by saying, “It's a lawful order. We fully anticipate that our troops are going to follow lawful orders. When you raise your right hand and take that oath, that's what you agree to do.”

The expedited timeline for the vaccination comes as the Pfizer vaccine received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration on Monday. Prior to its approval, the military mandate for vaccination was slated for mid-September, as outlined by the Biden administration.

The Pfizer vaccine has now been added to the list of required vaccinations for military service, which already includes as many as 17 different vaccines, depending on deployment.

The Pfizer shot will be available at bases and from global commands as the Pentagon has enough supply of the vaccine to meet demand, the AP said. Service members may also seek the COVID vaccine of their choice on their own but must provide proof of inoculation.

More than 800,000 service members have yet to receive the COVID vaccine, which officials have pushed for due to the close quarters that service members live and work in. Such conditions can drive virus outbreaks and affect the military’s defense capabilities.

Kirby said that "on the active-duty force, 68% is fully vaccinated, and we estimate just over 76% have at least one dose. ”

According to data from the Department of Defense, there have been 34 military deaths from COVID-19.

US Forces Korea (USFK) administered initial doses of the Moderna vaccine for military and civilian healthcare workers
Thousands of US Air Force employees have yet to be fully vaccinated, but the first deadline is nearing, and defense firms are concerned about potential worker loss. US FORCES KOREA / Handout