The Pentagon on Tuesday said it was sticking to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, despite President Joe Biden calling the pandemic “over.”
“Certainly, from the Department of Defense standpoint, we still have a requirement to vaccinate when it comes to COVID. And so we’ll continue to implement our measures,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder at a press conference.
“And again, at the end of the day for us, this is about readiness — about war-fighting readiness,” he said.
Republican lawmakers argue that the Biden Administration’s mandate for all service members to be fully vaccinated is actually hurting readiness, since it is affecting recruiting and retention of current troops.
At the same time the Pentagon is facing a historic recruitment crisis, it may lose tens of thousands of troops who have chosen not to comply with the vaccine mandate — either by those troops being kicked out involuntarily or by their leaving the military.
“The Biden Administration’s military vaccine mandate is clearly harming military readiness by creating unnecessary recruiting and retention shortfalls,” Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) said in a recent statement.
He and Reps. Chip Roy (R-TX) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) led 41 Republicans in pressing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to lift the vaccine mandate, as first reported by Breitbart News.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over forty percent of men aged 18-24 years old have refused vaccination for Covid-19. In the Southern United States, an area responsible for half of the nation’s enlistments, that number is over fifty percent. Off the bat, your vaccine mandate disqualifies more than forty percent of the Army’s target demographic from service nationwide, and over half of the individuals in the most fertile recruiting grounds,” they wrote.
In addition to nearly 8,000 American service members the Pentagon has already involuntarily discharged, tens of thousands more are awaiting adjudication of their requests for exemption from the vaccine on religious or medical grounds.
The vast majority of religious exemption requests have been denied, prompting DOD Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell to warn Austin in June that the department may be in “non-compliance” with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
And federal courts have prohibited punishment of airmen, sailors, and Marines who have challenged the Pentagon’s mandate on the potential violation of their religious freedoms.
To date, 442,691 service members have contracted coronavirus, with 95 service member deaths, according to the Pentagon’s statistics.
The Republican lawmakers argued in their letter to Austin that healthy young service members have almost zero chance of death from coronavirus and that vaccinations have negligible or even negative efficacy against the Omicron strains.
“In the past, you have insisted the Covid-19 vaccine mandate is an imperative for readiness, but increasing amounts of data raise legitimate questions about your assertion,” they wrote. “We also know that natural immunity provides better protection against infection and death than existing Covid vaccines, yet the Department still refuses to recognize it in lieu of vaccination.”