WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. military forces around the world will no longer be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, after the mandate was lifted under an $858 billion defense spending bill passed by Congress and signed into law Friday by President Joe Biden.
The department has 30 days to work out the details of the warrant cancellation. The Pentagon said Friday that in the meantime, the military services would suspend all personnel actions, such as dismissing troops who refused firing, and that all troops would still be encouraged to get vaccinated and reinforced.
Biden had opposed the Republican-backed provision, agreeing with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that lifting the mandate was not in the military’s best interest, White House officials said. But he ultimately agreed to GOP demands in order to win passage of the legislation.
The contentious political issue, which has divided America, forced more than 8,400 soldiers out of the military for refusing to obey a lawful order when they refused to be vaccinated. Thousands more have applied for religious and medical exemptions.
The new law effectively ends those exemption requests, but questions remain about whether limited restrictions can continue for troops on specific missions or assigned to areas of the world where vaccination is still required.
Austin, who instituted the mandate last August after the Pfizer vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and as the coronavirus pandemic raged, was determined to keep it going, insisting the vaccine was needed to protect strength health. And he and other defense leaders have argued that for decades troops, especially those deployed overseas, have had to get up to 17 different vaccines. No other vaccine mandates were affected by the new law.
But Congress agreed to rescind the warrant, with opponents reluctantly saying it may have already succeeded in getting the bulk of the force vaccinated. About 99% of active duty soldiers in the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps had been vaccinated, and 98% of the Army. Guard and reserve rates are lower, but are typically above 90%.
After signing the defense bill on Friday, Biden said in a statement that some provisions “raise concerns,” but overall they “provide vital benefits and improve access to justice for service members.” and their families, and include key authorities to support the national defense of our country.” , Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security.
The bill includes about $45 billion more for defense programs than Biden had requested and about 10% more than last year’s bill, as lawmakers seek to account for inflation and to strengthen the country’s military competitiveness with China and Russia. It includes a 4.6% wage increase for the military and civilian workforce of the Department of Defense.
According to U.S. officials, the department will take at least part of the next 30 days to work out the details of the vaccine mandate cancellation and decide what specific orders will come from Austin and what flexibility, if any, it will allow to the secretaries of service and chefs.
Defense officials familiar with the ongoing discussions said there had been high-level meetings on the issue with heated discussions, and service chiefs made it clear they wanted clear and specific guidance. and that everyone implements the new directive in the same way.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the department was reviewing legal and medical advice as it considered how to mitigate potential health risks in military missions.
Austin, however, could leave some decisions to the services, including whether they can require vaccines under certain circumstances, such as certain overseas deployments. In recent public comments, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro suggested that overriding the vaccination mandate could split the service into two categories of people: those who can deploy and those who cannot.
Military officials remember vividly the crushing crisis of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy aircraft carrier that was decommissioned and sidelined in Guam for 10 weeks in early 2020 as the virus emerges was sweeping the ship. Over 1,000 crew members were eventually infected and one sailor died.
Military leaders fear that if troops start refusing the vaccine in large numbers, similar outbreaks could occur. The risk is especially high on small ships or submarines where service members are stuck in close quarters for weeks or months at a time, or on critical combat missions, such as those involving special operations forces who deploy in small teams.
What seems clear is that the department will not be obligated to bring back service members who refused the vaccine and were discharged for failing to comply with an order. An amendment to demand their reinstatement with back pay was not passed.
According to data compiled by the Army in early December, the Marine Corps leads the services with 3,717 discharged Marines. There were 2,041 dismissals from the navy, 1,841 from the army and 834 from the air force. Air Force data includes Space Force.
What is unclear is whether the services, which are facing recruiting challenges, will want to allow some service members back, if they still meet all the necessary fitness requirements and others.
Lawmakers have argued that ending the term would help recruitment. Defense officials pushed back saying that while it may help a bit, a departmental survey in the first nine months of this year found that a large majority said the warrant did not change the likelihood that they consider enlisting.
The Huffington Gt