Only 43 out of the over 8,000 U.S. service members discharged due to their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination have expressed a desire to reenlist despite the repeal of the vaccine mandate eight months ago.
The data, provided to CNN by various military branches, sheds light on the effects of the vaccine mandate on military retention and recruitment, which has been a subject of significant debate in American politics.
The U.S. military enforced a vaccine mandate for a span of 15 months, from August 2021 to January 2023. The mandate was later repealed through the National Defense Authorization Act, a historic decision given that it might be the first instance in U.S. military history where a vaccine requirement was reversed, according to CNN.
Critics, especially from the Republican party, have argued that the vaccine mandate negatively impacted military recruiting and retention.
However, the Defense Department has claimed that all military services achieved their retention goals for the initial ten months of the 2023 fiscal year, which started in October 2022. Nevertheless, the military has struggled to recruit new members to serve.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin required all service members to receive the vaccine after it received FDA approval. Although the COVID-19 vaccine was just one among over 15 vaccines the Defense Department required, the mandate proved to be especially controversial.
According to CNN, experts have cited multiple reasons that troops discharged due to their refusal to receive the vaccine have not returned to the military. Some experts believe that younger troops might have decided to pursue alternative careers, while older members may have considered the vaccine mandate as an opportunity to retire.
Kate Kuzminski, the director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security, told CNN that the vaccine mandate could have provided an exit opportunity for those already contemplating leaving the military.
She anticipates that the number of returnees will remain low, remarking, “I don’t see this number jumping significantly. You might see ones and twos in the future.”
Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville has claimed the vaccine mandate “damaged readiness” and significantly “depleted the ranks” of the U.S. military.
“Our military should be focused on one thing only: winning,” Senator Tuberville said in a recent letter to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. “Joe Biden firing thousands of healthy and dedicated service members made us weaker and never had any basis in science. The Senate—and, more importantly, military families—deserve a full accounting of the effects of this policy up and down the chain of command. The Pentagon needs to stop stonewalling and give us the answers we deserve.”
This news article was partially created with the assistance of artificial intelligence and edited and fact-checked by a human editor.