Next EDF conscript batch must be vaccinated against COVID-19

EDF conscripts' boots on the ground.
EDF conscripts' boots on the ground. Source: Karl Jakob Toplaan

The EDF has ruled that this October's conscript intake will only be made up of those who have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose.

EDF commander Lt Gen. Martin Herem said: "The EDF work in constant, close proximity, meaning the risk of infection is much higher here than the Estonian average."

"This makes the spread of the coronavirus detrimental to our defense, which we cannot afford," Herem went on, adding that large-scale exercises, foreign trips and missions would be mostly out of the question without the measure.

Confining soldiers to barracks would also not be good for their morale, Herem added.

Herem denied that the requirement for October's intake of conscripts to be vaccinated would lead to a shortfall in numbers.

He said: "I believe that we will not be short of conscripts. However, if there end up being fewer, we will at least be able to maintain the quality of training."

Defense ministry secretary general Kusti Salm also told ERR that conscript levels will be maintained.

The work of EDF conscripts obviously does not contain much scope for remote working.

Much of their time is taken up with fieldcraft, weapons training, admin, drill and other normal soldiering duties, ERR reports.

The air force (Õhuvägi), like the navy organizationally a part of the EDF, does not accept conscripts.

Marlen Piskinov, director of the Defense Resources Agency (Kaitseressursside amet) said 85 percent of scheduled conscripts, about a thousand people, have already been contacted.

All regular EDF personnel will also havea the opportunity to get vaccinated, ERR reports, while conscripts who have had one vaccine dose will be able to get their second one through the EDF before arriving at barracks.

Lt. Gen. Herem said he has prepared a government-ordered coronavirus risk assessment on behalf of the EDF, which must be reviewed by all staff by September 13 and submitted by that date.

Herem also said the vaccine program so far – with 88 percent coverage of active EDF members – has had the benefit of greater freedom of action, while a 100-percent rate is the desired target.

This has already been achieved in the armed forces in the U.S., he said, while Latvia and Lithuania's defense forces have similar goals.

There are around 15 active coronavirus cases among EDF personnel at present, he added, with around one new case appearing a day, compared with around a dozen daily in 2020, when rates were comparable (around 300) with today's

Kusti Salm said defense ministry coverage was as high as 98 percent, compared with 91 percent for government employees as a whole.

Salm noted that conscripts and regular EDF members were always monitored for their health in any case, having to take an annual physical examination and requiring vaccinations before foreign missions as well.

Long-term remote working posts which do not entail access to state secrets or classified locations may be granted an exception to vaccination, the ministry says.

The government issued its order on August 13 which, along with amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, required the risk assessment to be conducted, by September 1 in fact.

Call-ups take place thrice yearly. The next call-up is October 18-19, and the last one was in July.

Conscription is mandatory for eight or 11 months in Estonia, depending on which area of the EDF the conscript heads for, with exemptions including higher education study, health reasons and conscientious reasons.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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