Pentagon lowers COVID-19 vaccine requirement for troops

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon officially lifted the COVID-19 vaccination mandate Tuesday, but a new memorandum signed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also gives commanders some leeway on how or whether to deploy unvaccinated troops.

Austin’s memo has been widely anticipated since legislation passed on Dec. 23 gave him 30 days to withdraw the warrant. The Ministry of Defense has suspended all personnel actions, including firing troops who refuse to fire.

“The department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccinations for all service members,” Austin said in the memo. “Vaccination improves operational readiness and provides strong protection.”

According to Austin, commanders have the power to maintain the readiness and health of units. However, he added that other department policies, including mandates for other vaccines, would remain in place. This, he said, includes “the ability for commanders to consider the individual vaccination status of personnel when making deployment, deployment and other operational decisions, as appropriate, including when vaccination is required for travel or entry into a foreign country.” .”

The controversial political issue that has divided America has forced more than 8,400 soldiers to be discharged from the military for disobeying legal orders when they refused vaccinations. Thousands more applied for religious and medical benefits. Austin’s memo puts an end to requests for that exemption.

Austin, who imposed the mandate after the Pfizer vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in August 2021 and as the coronavirus pandemic raged, says the vaccine is needed to protect the health of the force and wants it to continue. . He and other defense leaders have argued that for decades, troops, especially those deployed overseas, have had to receive 17 different vaccines. The new law did not affect other vaccine mandates.

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But Congress agreed to drop the warrant, and opponents reluctantly said it may have already vaccinated much of the force. About 99% of active-duty soldiers in the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and 98% of the Army, have been vaccinated. Security and reserve rates are lower, but usually above 90%.

Austin’s writing was unapologetic about his continued support for the vaccine and his belief that the mandated force is healthy and capable of protecting America. The Pentagon’s vaccine efforts, he said, “will leave a lasting legacy in the many lives we’ve saved, the world-class force we’ve been able to deploy and the high level of readiness we’ve maintained. , in a challenging public health setting.

In addition to halting efforts to deport troops who refuse the vaccine, Austin’s memo updates the records of those who request and are denied discharges and cancels all letters of reprimand.

Those released for refusing to obey a legal order to vaccinate were generally discharged on honorable or honorable terms. According to Austin’s memo, anyone who has been discharged from the military can request a request to change the “character of the discharge” in their personal records. However, he did not specify what amendments could be made.

Austin’s decision allows commanders to decide whether they may require vaccines in certain situations, such as certain overseas deployments.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Navy aircraft carrier, was decommissioned in Guam in early 2020 for 10 weeks and the ship was swept because of the virus, military officials said. Eventually, more than 1,000 crew members were infected and one sailor died.

Military leaders fear that such an outbreak could occur if troops begin to refuse the vaccine in large numbers. The risk is particularly high on small ships or submarines, where military personnel are stuck in close quarters for weeks or months at a time, or in critical combat missions involving special operations forces deployed in small groups.

The Marine Corps maintains services with 3,717 discharged Marines, according to data collected by the Army in early December. 2041 from the Navy, 1841 from the Army and 834 from the Air Force. Air Force data includes the Space Force.

It is unclear whether the services facing recruitment challenges will be willing or able to allow any of these service members to return to duty if they still meet all required physical fitness and other requirements.

Legislators argued that the deadline would help recruitment. Defense officials said that while it helped a little, most polled in the first nine months of last year said the warrant would not change their likelihood of being drafted.

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