The Pentagon has formally rescinded its vaccine mandate, which coerced over two million troops into receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and forced nearly 8,400 service members out of the U.S. military.
Although both Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and President Joe Biden wanted to keep the mandate in place, Republicans made sure that the National Defense Authorization Act wouldn’t pass without its elimination.
Austin forced to end forced vaccinations
Austin circulated a memo to senior Pentagon leaders Tuesday, stating that while the Department of Defense “will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all Service members,” troops are no longer explicitly required to get shots or boosters.
The defense secretary originally announced the mandate in 2021, penalizing all service members who resisted.
Austin wrote, “Section 525 of the NDAA for FY 2023 requires me to rescind the mandate that members of the Armed Forces be vaccinated against COVID-19, issued in my August 24, 2021 memorandum, ‘Mandatory Coronavirus Disease 2019 Vaccination of Department of Defense Service Members.’ I hereby rescind that memorandum.”
In addition to no longer being forced to take the vaccine against their wills, troops will no longer be segregated “on the basis of their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination if they sought an accommodation on religious, administrative, or medical grounds.”
Soldiers’ requests for exemptions and resulting letters of reprimand will be stricken from their records.
Although tens of thousands of service members who sought medical exemptions faced extreme obstacles, Austin retroactively claimed that “service members have the right to observe the tenets of their religion or to observe no religion at all.”
While vaccinations are no longer mandatory, the Pentagon memo made clear that commanders can continue to discriminate on the basis of immunization status, particularly when “making deployment, assignment, and other operational decisions, including when vaccination is required for travel to, or entry into, a foreign nation.”
Austin indicated that those soldiers who were kicked out of the service over their refusal to be vaccinated may be eligible for a general discharge, if ousted on under otherwise honorable conditions. To this end, former service members must “petition their Military Department’s Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military or Naval Records to individually request a correction to their personnel records.”
Defense Department records indicate that 3,717 Marines, 1,816 soldiers, and 2,064 sailors were discharged for refusing the vaccine, reported Reuters.
Republican Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and others had proposed that military members who had been discharged for refusing the vaccine would be reinstated, reported CNN. However, this amendment to the defense bill in the Senate did not pass.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in late 2022 that “Secretary Austin’s been very clear that he opposes the repeal of that vaccine mandate, and the president actually concurs with the secretary that we need to continue to believe that all Americans, including those in the armed forces, should be vaccinated and boosted for COVID 19.”
“The president supports Secretary Austin and the opposition to a repeal of the mandate,” added Kirby.
Biden’s opinion evidently had no bearing on Republicans’ subsequent actions.
The Hill reported that 21 Republican governors, led by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, along with 13 GOP Senate lawmakers, urged leaders in Congress to repeal the mandate “either through the National Defense Authorization Act or a standalone bill.”
Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) said, “Congress should take action, and we’re taking action today by saying we will not vote to get on the NDAA – the defense authorization bill – unless we have a vote on ending this military vaccine mandate.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) stated on Dec. 4 that the NDAA would “not move” unless the military vaccine requirement was lifted.
House Democrats conceded in order to pass the 4,000-page bill. Biden signed it into law on Dec. 23, giving the DOD 30 days to drop the mandate.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) tweeted on Tuesday, “One of the worst policy decisions affecting military readiness is finally over.”
Massie had previously introduced a resolution prohibiting any requirement that a member of the Armed Forces receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) called the repeal a “HUGE victory,” and suggested that “it’s time to make it right for the people whose lives were destroyed by this disgraceful mandate!”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) concurred, calling on Defense Secretary Austin to “take every step necessary to undo the harm done to service members and their families when they were forcibly discharged.”
Austin claimed that the DOD’s “COVID-19 vaccination efforts will leave a lasting legacy.”
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