Active-duty service members now can get COVID-19 vaccines anywhere they are available without needing pre-authorizations, according to an update published Monday to the manual that dictates military health services.
Under normal circumstances, U.S. troops receive medical care from military hospitals and clinics unless referred to the private sector by their military providers.
A change to the Tricare manual waives the requirement that they get a referral and allows troops stationed in the U.S. or territories to get their coronavirus vaccines from any provider. The change does not apply to troops stationed overseas.
The move comes as the Defense Department tries to raise its vaccination rates. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday that 70% of active-duty troops have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
That rate is slightly higher than it was a week earlier, at 68.8%, but lower than the Pentagon's goal to have all service members vaccinated by mid-July.
The Pentagon has said it will not require troops to get the vaccines as long as they are under emergency-use authorizations. But officials said they are considering making them mandatory once the immunizations receive full FDA approval.
According to the Tricare manual, troops should not expect to pay for a COVID-19 shot if they get it through a provider other than the military health system. Defense health officials cautioned, however, that if they receive the shot as part of a primary or specialty care visit for a reason other than preventive care, they may incur a copay for that visit.
In the last month, the U.S. military has tallied more than 5,600 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 203,758 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The Army has had 72,812 cases; the Navy, 39,395; the Air Force, 33,531; the Marine Corps, 22,859; and the National Guard, 33,983.
Twenty-six service members, including 10 active-duty, eight Reserve and eight National Guard members, have died.
-- Military.com reporter Stephen Losey contributed to this report.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.