Defense Sec. Austin rescinds COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all military service members

Within the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act military spending bill passed last month was a provision that required the Defense Department to end its mandate for all military service members — whether on active duty, in the Reserves, or in the National Guard — to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, regardless of naturally acquired immunity or any lawful requests for exemption.

In light of that congressional demand, Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin on Tuesday finally issued a long-awaited memo to formally rescind his prior order that made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, the Daily Wire reported.

This is a huge victory for House Republicans and all others opposed to COVID vaccine mandates and a crushing defeat for the likes of President Joe Biden, Sec. Austin, and all others who insisted that all military service members be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face disciplinary measures, up to and including dishonorable discharge, for those who refused.

Vaccine mandates rescinded

Sec. Austin issued the two-page memo Tuesday that was addressed to senior Pentagon leadership, all combatant commanders, and the directors of all Defense agencies and field activities.

The secretary first heralded the COVID-19 vaccine as a life-saver for the military and said his department would “continue to promote and encourage” all service members to get fully vaccinated for the purpose of being able to “maintain military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline,” and the “health and safety” of individual members.

However, Austin then noted the requirement within the NDAA for him to end the COVID vaccine mandate and, as such, announced his formal recission of two prior memos from August and November of 2021 that, respectively, made the emergency authorized COVID vaccines mandatory for all active duty service members and all members of the Reserves and National Guard.

“No individuals currently serving in the Armed Forces shall be separated solely on the basis of their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination if they sought an accommodation on religious, administrative, or medical grounds,” the secretary said. “The Military Departments will update the records of such individuals to remove any adverse actions solely associated with denials of such requests, including letters of reprimand.”

“The Secretaries of the Military Departments will further cease any ongoing reviews of current Service member religious, administrative, or medical accommodation requests solely for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine or appeals of denials of such requests,” he added.

No reinstatement for discharged members, vaccination status still controls

Fox News reported that while Sec. Austin’s memo ended enforcement of the military’s COVID vaccine mandate, it did not address the potential for reinstatement or renewal of cut benefits for the more than 8,400 service members who were discharged or forced to resign for refusing to accept the vaccine.

What the memo did mention, however, was that dishonorably discharged members could file petitions to have their personnel records corrected to reflect a general or honorable discharge.

Yet, even as the vaccine mandate has ended, Austin made it clear that the vaccination status of members will still weigh heavy over their careers, as his memo authorized “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.”

The “bare minimum” of what is necessary

First Liberty Institute, a legal organization that has fought against the military’s COVID vaccine mandate since its inception, welcomed the recission of the mandate but insisted that Sec. Austin’s actions were inadequate and more needed to be done with regard to the issue.

“We acknowledge that the Secretary of Defense did as Congress directed. But that is the bare minimum owed to our brave service members,” Mike Berry, director of military affairs for First Liberty, said in a statement. “In fact, the Secretary’s memo still permits military commanders to require the vaccine in making decisions regarding unvaccinated service members.”

“There are still far too many in our military who were forced out or are still facing career-ending actions because of the Covid vaccine mandate,” he added. “America owes it to those who defend our Constitution and our freedoms to ensure they do not lose theirs.”

Latest News