The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the U.S. military has been officially repealed in the face of concerns about the health and readiness of the armed forces.
President Joe Biden killed the mandate in the defense budget bill he signed into law Friday.
Since the mandate began in August 2021, the Biden administration and military leaders have said the vaccine is essential to protecting troops’ health, like others required by the military. But lawmakers zeroed in on repealing the mandate when recruiting shortfalls across the armed forces combined with thousands of troops being discharged for refusing the vaccine.
More than 8,000 troops have been discharged for not taking a COVID-19 vaccine, Military Times reported. Nearly all remaining troops have been vaccinated, CNN reported.
Republicans were long vocally opposed to the mandate, and even Democratic support for it was relatively muted, Military Times reported, with Democrats in some cases calling for its repeal.
“As we are here in December 2022, does that August 2021 policy still make sense?” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA). “We don’t believe that it is, and I don’t believe that it is.”
Biden made no mention of the repeal when he signed the budget bill. But his press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre attacked Republicans for pushing against the mandate, while pointing out the policy has done its job, according to a press conference transcript.
“We saw that Republicans in Congress decided that they’d rather fight against the health and well-being of the troops than protecting them,” she said. “The president opposes this repeal. But with more than 98 percent of our active-duty troops vaccinated, that means that the overwhelming bulk of our force is in compliance with the requirement and remains protected against COVID.”
Jean-Pierre also said reinstating discharged vaccine refusers would be up to the Department of Defense.
“That is something that the Department of Defense has to decide on specific service members,” she said. “They have a process on how that runs. … We will let them run that process.”
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who implemented the mandate, said he hasn’t “seen any hard data that directly links the COVID mandate to an effect on our recruiting,” Reuters reported.