Pentagon rescinds Covid-19 vaccine mandate
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issues a memo scrapping the Pentagon's Covid-19 vaccine mandate.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin rescinded on Tuesday the Pentagon's Covid-19 vaccine mandate after Congress used the 2023 defense policy bill last month to scrap it a year after it was instated.
In December, some Republicans threatened to hold up the annual defense bill if it did not lift the shot requirement, arguing that it was unfair to force troops to decide between receiving the vaccine or potentially facing expulsion.
Austin wrote in a memo scrapping the mandate -- under which the Pentagon says more than 8,000 military personnel were discharged for refusing to comply -- that he is "deeply proud" of the Defense Department's efforts to combat Covid-19.
"We have improved the health of our service members and the readiness of the force, and we have provided life-saving assistance to the American people," he wrote.
The memo pointed out that the Department would continue to encourage vaccination and told commanders that they have "the responsibility and authority to preserve the department's compelling interests in mission accomplishment."
"This responsibility and authority includes the ability to maintain military readiness, unit cohesions, good order and discipline, and the health and safety of a resilient joint force," the memo indicated.
However, the memo noted that commanders will have some powers to decide whether to deploy troops who are not vaccinated, "including when vaccination is required for travel to, or entry into, a foreign nation."
According to the memo, personnel who were removed from the military solely as a result of the mandate can apply to have the characterizations of their discharges amended but makes no mention of reinstatement -- a move some Republican lawmakers had sought.
In August 2021, Austin announced that all troops must get vaccinated against Covid-19 or face potential expulsion. Last month, he reiterated his stance, arguing that the policy should be maintained because it has kept people healthy.
According to Axios, more than 11,500 members of the Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve refused to receive the Covid-19 vaccine as of last month.
However, 97% of the Army's active personnel have received the vaccine, the website highlighted.