The Pentagon issued a memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin formally rescinding its mandate for vaccination against COVID-19 for military personnel. The move comes after Republicans urged the Biden administration to reverse the measure through defense legislation last December.
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The brief gives commanders certain orders on how they should deploy troops who are not vaccinated. It also gives superiors the authority to maintain unit and "force" readiness by allowing them to decide whether they may require vaccinations in some special circumstances. It also adds that other department policies, including mandates for other immunizations, remain in effect:
The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all service members. Vaccination enhances operational readiness and protects the force. ... [Commanders retain] the ability to consider, as appropriate, the individual immunization status of personnel in making deployment, assignment, and other operational decisions, including when vaccination is required for travel to, or entry into, a foreign nation.
More than 8,000 left the military
The controversial issue of mandatory vaccination resulted in the resignation of more than 8,400 uniformed personnel for refusing to obey the legal order to receive the guideline. According to data compiled by the military in December 2022, the Marine Corps leads in resignations with 3,717. In the Navy, 2,041 people left their duties. There were 1,841 resignations from the Army and 834 from the Air Force.
Many other officers sought religious and medical exemptions. The new memo puts an end to those exemption requests. In addition, it says that those who requested or were denied the request will be able to update their records and the letters of reprimand will be removed. That is, anyone who has been discharged may apply to their respective military service for a change in the characterization of their discharge in their personnel records.
However, it is unclear whether the military, which is facing recruiting challenges, will be able to allow those members to return to service, as they must still meet all necessary fitness and other requirements. Republicans have promised to address the issue of reinstatement of discharged troops with back pay in 2023.