Tuesday marked the official end of the Pentagon’s COVID-19 immunization requirement, but a new memo approved by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also provides commanders considerable latitude in how or not to deploy troops who have not had the vaccine.
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.
“The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all service members. Vaccination enhances operational readiness and protects the force.”
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.
“The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all service members,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. https://t.co/rbnyaqi6FT— HuffPost (@HuffPost) January 11, 2023
This comprises, he said. “the ability of commanders 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 8,400 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 introduced the order in August 2021 after the Pfizer vaccine was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and as the coronavirus pandemic raged, was strong in his determination to retain it saying the vaccination was critical to defend the health of the force.
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.
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 joining.