In Washington However, a new memo signed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also offers commanders considerable latitude in how or not to deploy troops who are not vaccinated. The Pentagon officially abandoned its Covid-19 vaccine mandate on Tuesday.
Since legislation was passed on December 23 giving Austin 30 days to revoke the mandate, the letter has been eagerly awaited. The Defense Department has previously halted all personnel-related activities, such as releasing soldiers who objected to being shot.
Austin stated in the memo that “the Department will continue to advocate and encourage Covid-19 vaccination for all service personnel.” The force is protected and operational preparedness is improved via vaccination.
According to Austin, commanders are in charge of preserving force health and unit readiness. However, he stressed, other departmental policies, such as requirements for other vaccines, continue to be in effect. He added that this includes “commanders’ ability to consider, as necessary, the individual immunization status of soldiers in determining deployment, assignment, and other operational decisions, including where vaccination is required for travel to, or entry into, a foreign nation.”
More than 8,400 soldiers were discharged from the military as a result of their refusal to comply with a valid order to receive the vaccine due to the divisive political issue. Numerous others requested religious and health-related exemptions. Austin’s memo puts an end to their demands for exemptions.
Austin, who put the requirement in place in August 2021, after the Pfizer vaccine received FDA approval and as the coronavirus pandemic raged, was steadfast in his intention to uphold it, saying that the vaccination was required to preserve the force’s health. He and other defense officials noted that troops, especially those sent overseas, have been compelled to receive up to 17 different immunizations for decades. The new law had no impact on any other vaccination requirements.
Although opponents grudgingly conceded that probably it had already been successful in immunizing the majority of the force, Congress nonetheless agreed to repeal the mandate. In the Army and 98% of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps active-duty personnel had received the vaccine. Although they are normally less than 90%, the Guard and Reserve rates are lower.
In his memo, Austin continued to support the vaccine and expressed his unwavering conviction that the requirement kept the force healthy and equipped to defend the United States. He claimed that despite challenging public health conditions, the Pentagon’s vaccine efforts “will leave a lasting legacy in the countless lives we saved, the world-class force we have been able to deploy, and the high level of preparedness we have maintained.”
Austin’s memo states that efforts to dismiss soldiers who refuse the vaccine would halt, and that any letters of reprimand will be erased for those who requested exemptions but were denied.
An honorable discharge or a general discharge with honorable terms was given to those who were let go for refusing to follow a valid order to get the vaccine. According to Austin’s memo, anyone who has been discharged from the military may file a petition with their military branch to ask that their personnel file’s “characterization of their dismissal” be changed. However, it is silent on the potential corrections that might be given.
Austin’s ruling grants commanders considerable latitude, allowing them to choose whether to impose vaccination requirements in specified situations, including as during specific overseas deployments.
Military authorities recall the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s enormous crisis well. The Navy aircraft carrier was forced to remain in Guam for 10 weeks at the beginning of 2020 while the newly developing virus spread across the ship. In the end, more than 1,000 crew members contracted the illness, and one of them passed away.
Military commanders are concerned that similar epidemics might happen if troops start to reject the vaccine in big numbers. When military members are confined to small ships or submarines for weeks or months at a time or during crucial combat missions, such as those involving small teams of special operations forces, the risk is very significant.
The Marine Corps has discharged the most personnel among the services (3,717 Marines), according to data gathered by the military as of early December. There have been 2,041 Navy discharges, 1,841 Army discharges, and 834 Air Force discharges. The Space Force is represented in the Air Force data.
It’s unclear if the services, who are having trouble finding qualified candidates, will want to or be able to allow any of those service members to report back for duty, even if they still meet all other eligibility and fitness standards.
Ending the mandate, according to lawmakers, would improve recruiting. Defense officials have retaliated, arguing that while it might help a little, the majority of respondents to a department study conducted during the first nine months of last year indicated the rule had no impact on their chances of considering enrolling.