Updated Jan 10, 2023 - Health

Pentagon drops COVID vaccination mandate

A U.S. Air Force sergeant receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Osan Air Base in Dec. 2020 in South Korea. Photo: United States Forces Korea via Getty Images

The Pentagon on Tuesday rescinded its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but is giving commanders some discretion in the deployment of unvaccinated troops, according to a memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin obtained by AP.

Why it matters: The move could help the Pentagon boost enrollment numbers while not having to remove troops for not complying.

Context: Congress used its annual defense policy bill last month to scrap the mandate a year after it was instated, with some Republican governors and members of Congress arguing it's unfair to force troops to decide between getting the vaccine and potentially being expelled from the military.

What they're saying: “The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all service members,” Austin said, per the memo.

  • “Vaccination enhances operational readiness and protects the force.”

Of note: Commanders will have some discretion to decide whether to deploy troops who are not vaccinated, "including when vaccination is required for travel to, or entry into, a foreign nation," the memo states.

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

  • He doubled down last month, saying the policy should be maintained because it has kept people healthy.

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

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

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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