By Michael Wang
Recently, the United States Senate decided that the military vaccine mandate should be lifted. This has caused a great deal of pushback and conversation about vaccine mandates in general and whether or not troops who refused to be vaccinated should be reinstated. President Joe Biden has not commented on the recent ruling and hasn't given any indications on if he plans to veto the law to support the Pentagon's mandatory vaccine policy. 

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What Happened With the Military Vaccine Mandate?

While many are tossing and turning behind their phones or computer screens, the United States Senate has repealed the military vaccine mandate. This shocking news has been met with much anger and frustration from Democrats and large swaths of the public, as many believe that the military vaccine mandate was keeping military personnel safe.  The military COVID vaccine mandate was put in place to keep service members within all branches safe and healthy, though many people had their doubts as to the credibility of the COVID mRNA vaccines due to the fast public rollout.  However, since this law was enforced by the military, it was met with a critical response from those who didn't wish to be vaccinated.  Many military troops requested a religious or medical exemption from the military vaccine mandate. However, there were only a handful of service members who were exempted from the military COVID vaccination mandate for these reasons.  The military was hit with several military vaccine mandate lawsuits, which prevented the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force from isolating the troops who refused to be vaccinated on religious grounds. In the aftermath of the situation, some say that the discussion, lawsuits, and larger debate may have affected the ability of the military to recruit future service members. Due to the political turmoil regarding the U.S. military vaccine mandate, some argued that it was causing potential recruits to question whether they should join the military or not.  The political tug-of-war between the Republicans and Democrats caused chaos within the military in conversations surrounding the military vaccine mandate. In the end, the issue of continuing the U.S. military vaccine mandate was settled with the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). With the bill heading to Biden’s desk for a signature, allowing a choice of vaccination among members of the military seems almost certain. 

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The National Defense Authorization Act 2023 Could Improve Recruitment Although the opposition to the mandate won out, there are still some people, including top military leaders and top health officials, who still insist that the vaccination mandate for military personnel was necessary.  While some rejoice at the ruling of repealing the military vaccine mandate, Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s spokesperson, said at the December 7 news briefing that the Secretary was “very clear in his comments that he supports continuing and maintaining the vaccine mandate.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin believes that the vaccine has done incredible work in saving lives across the nation, as the immunity it grants is not just limited to lives in the military but also to the lives of the millions upon millions of civilians living within the United States.  In the time that the military vaccine mandate was in effect, the Army discharged at least 1,851 Soldiers, the Air Force separated with 834 service members, the Marine Corps let go of 3,717 Marines, and the Navy discharged 2,041 of its Sailors. 

Will Service Members Who’ve Been Discharged for Not Getting the Vaccine Be Let Back In?

According to NBC News, reporting suggests that military branches could consider allowing troops who had been separated from their respective branches to rejoin if they have not received other-than-honorable discharges.  Discussions amongst the Pentagon leaders as to whether such a thing is permissible are in progress. The annual NDAA, determining the military’s budget for the year, is about to be signed into law. When that happens, letting service members back into the military following the vaccine mandate repeal might be a possibility.  Officials say that requests to rejoin the military are handled on a case-by-case basis. One major factor involves whether or not troops were honorably or dishonorably discharged from the military. In other words, whether or not a particular service member left under good circumstances. If so, they may be allowed to come back.  

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Have a Pulse? The Military Wants YOU! In many cases, the official reason for separation was failing to follow the military vaccine mandate. Those who still meet the age and fitness standards of the military and still want to join would likely be granted the option to come back into the military once the military vaccine mandate is repealed.  However, it’s also important to note that those who want to rejoin may not be entitled to the same pay grade that they once had, and the same goes for their rank, before they were honorably discharged. These decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, but any potential rejoining service members shouldn’t count on their pay grade or rank being returned to them.  As the future is uncertain, leaders in the Pentagon are concerned about how the change will affect the readiness of the military. Will it change the dynamic within the military? How would rejoined service members get back into service, logistically? There are a lot of unanswered questions that beg to be answered for the sake of the integrity of military preparedness. 

Why Was the Military Vaccine Mandate Lifted?

The military vaccine mandate was lifted based on political maneuverings and negotiations made in order to pass the National Defense Authorization Act.  Democrats on this issue recognize that the “public has moved on.” Key party members have mentioned that when the military vaccine mandate was put in place back in August 2021 by the Department of Defense, it was definitely the right policy. They cited the fact that the policy saved lives and ensured that the military could be as immune to the COVID-19 pandemic as possible. As of December 2022, government officials reflected on the military vaccine mandate and questioned if the policy still made sense. After careful consideration, and in light of the NDAA becoming a target for partisan politics, officials in both parties agreed to give up the mandate for now. 

What Are the Branches of the Military Going To Do About the Vaccine Mandate in the Future?

With the COVID vaccine mandate, military personnel were bound to the rule that they had to be vaccinated in order to stay in. Now with the military vaccine mandate lifted, it provides a chance for previously honorably discharged troops, due to the mandate, to rejoin the military.  The NDAA allows the branches of the military to determine if they will permit anyone who was discharged for refusal to take the vaccine to rejoin the military. As of right now, it’s unclear how the Navy or the Marine Corps will handle the military personnel who were separated.  According to the U.S. Naval Institute, it’s also unclear if exempt Sailors and Marines could be deployed. As of right now, any Sailor or Marine with a pending confirmed exemption from the vaccine “cannot be deployed due to not having the vaccine, even if they are still part of the Navy.”  Branches are currently trying to formulate a rule or a set of rules and procedures for those who were honorably discharged to rejoin the military. 

Does the Military Have a Vaccine Mandate?

With everything that's happened, the military vaccine mandate has kept civilians and members within the military safe from the pandemic.  The recent military vaccine mandate news will complicate the political climate and ultimately lead to more confusion and frustration for those who do wish that the vaccine mandate was still in place. However, the repeal of the mandate has granted those who were honorably discharged a potential reprieve to rejoin the military.  It remains to be seen how the lifting of the military vaccine mandate will affect the climate within the military. Did the government make a mistake in lifting the mandate? Or will it serve the greater good that people can participate even if they’re not vaccinated?  It’s worth mentioning that the military vaccine mandate is not just limited to the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. The military mandates a number of vaccines to prevent the spread of common illnesses. The military vaccine mandates for other illnesses are still in effect. As the COVID-19 jab was not the only vaccine mandate, military personnel will still be expected to receive the other mandated vaccines.


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