Department Of Defense Formally Ends COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

The Pentagon has formally rescinded its COVID-19 mandate for troops, per a memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. This means that troops who fail to get the shot will not be discharged, consequently boosting enrollment numbers at the Defense Department.

The mandate has seen over 8,500 troops get discharged from the Defense Department due to failure to get the vaccine. Those that did not get discharged had to seek religious and medical exemptions. Under the new decision, members no longer have to request exemptions.

The mandate was issued on Aug. 24, 2021, when Austin announced that all service members, including those in the National Guard and Reserve, have to get coronavirus vaccinations or risk facing punishment. The punishment came in various levels, from loss of pay to dismissal from the ranks.

The rescission, which faced great opposition from Republican leaders, has been anticipated since Dec. 23, 2022, when Austin got President Joe Biden to sign a defense policy legislation that gave him 30 days to repeal the military vaccine mandate.

Congress agreed to stop the mandate as the majority of military members have already been vaccinated. 98% of the Army’s active personnel have received the vaccination, while approximately 99% of active-duty personnel in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps have gotten their shots.

While the department is no longer enforcing COVID-19 vaccination, Austin maintains support for the vaccine. “The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all service members,” he said in the memo, adding that vaccination aids “operational readiness and protects the force.”

The bill allowed for the termination of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for military members but did not permit the reinstatement of members who had been discharged for refusing the vaccine. Austin’s memo, however, asks anyone who was discharged due to the issue to request a change in the “characterization of their discharge” in their personal records.

It is unclear if the department will offer corrections.

The decision also let commanders retain the authority to deploy unvaccinated members as they deem fit. This is in consideration of the fact that vaccination might be required “for travel to, or entry into, a foreign nation.” According to the memo, it is up to them to maintain a healthy force and ensure unit readiness.