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The Pentagon officially rescinds COVID-19 vaccine mandate

 UPI News logo: MainLogo UPI News 1/11/2023 Darryl Coote
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin rescinded the Pentagon's COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI © Bonnie Cash/UPI Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin rescinded the Pentagon's COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin officially rescinded the military's COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Tuesday that allowed the Armed Forces to discharge thousands of soldiers for failing to be inoculated against the virus.

The rescission of the Aug. 24, 2021, mandate was widely expected as lawmakers last month passed legislation which gave Austin 30 days to rescind, despite both the Pentagon and White House supporting vaccine regulation on military readiness grounds.

Austin announced the rescission in a memo, but said military leaders may take into consideration a service member's immunization status for making deployment, assignment and other operational decisions, including when vaccination is required for travel to a foreign country.

"The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all Service members," Austin wrote in the memo.

Under the mandate, 96% of the force, both active and reserve, were fully vaccinated against the virus. However, more than 8,400 military personnel were discharged over their failure to comply with the order.

Austin in the memo said that the department is precluded by law from awarding any characterization less than a general discharge for service members who were separated from the force by the mandate.

He added that those who requested exemptions, and were denied, will have their records updated to remove any adverse actions, including letters of reprimand.

Ongoing reviews of requests for religious, administrative or medical accommodation exemptions will also end, he said.

"The Department's COVID-19 vaccination efforts will leave a lasting legacy in the many lives we saved, the world-class Force we have been able to field and the high level of readiness we have maintained, amidst difficult health conditions," he said.

The repeal comes after lawmakers last month passed the $858 billion defense spending bill that included a Republican measure to rescind the vaccine mandate, arguing that doing so will protect the military's ranks amid low enlistment.

Prior to the bill passing, and amid a Republican push to rescind the mandate, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre chastised the move as a "mistake."

"Republicans in Congress have decided that they'd rather fight against the health and well-being of our troops than protecting them," she said in an early December press conference.

Republicans on Tuesday celebrated the rescinding of the mandate online with Rep. Lauren Boebert, a controversial far-right politician for Colorado, calling it a "huge victory."

"Now, it's time to make it right for the people whose lives were destroyed by this disgraceful mandate!" she tweeted.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said it was "fantastic news."

"America's military is the most lethal fighting force in the world -- and this egregious COVID vaccine mandate hampered its readiness," he said. "Now, we must restore benefits for those wrongly discharged over the mandate."


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