Dec 6, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Congress set to repeal military's coronavirus vaccine mandate

U.S. Air Force Honor Guards perform during Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Congress is set to use the annual defense policy bill to get rid of the Pentagon's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for military service members, the Hill reports.

Why it matters: The rollback marks a major blow for Democrats, who will give up the vaccine mandate — a year after it was instated — as a compromise with Republicans to get the National Defense Authorization Act passed.

The big picture: Some Republican governors and members of Congress have argued that it's unfair to force troops to decide between getting the coronavirus vaccine or potentially being expelled from the military, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is vying to become House speaker in the incoming Congress, warned Sunday that the bill would not move forward if the rollback of the mandate was not included.

Background: In August 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that all troops were required to get the coronavirus vaccine or face potential expulsion.

  • Just last week, Austin doubled down, saying the policy should be maintained. "We lost a million people to this virus," he said per AP. "We lost hundreds in DOD. So this mandate has kept people healthy."

By the numbers: More than 11,500 members of the Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Dec. 1.

  • But 97% of the Army's active personnel has received the vaccine.
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