The Pentagon formally dropped on Tuesday its Covid-19 vaccination mandate instituted in August 2021, a contentious political issue that has divided America and forced more than 8,400 troops out of the military for refusing to obey it.
Roughly 98% of the active-duty troops in the Army and 99% of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps had gotten the vaccine, with the vaccine rates being somewhat lower, but more than 90%, among the Guard and Reserve.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, however, also signed a new memo giving commanders some discretion in how or whether to deploy troops who are not vaccinated, which means they can require vaccines in some circumstances, such as certain deployments overseas.
Austin said in the memo that the Department of Defense will continue to promote and encourage Covid-19 vaccination for all service members, firmly believing that vaccination enhances the operational readiness of the troops and protects the force.
Ever since Congress agreed to rescind the mandate and legislation signed into law on Dec. 23 gave him 30 days to rescind it, Austin’s memo has been widely anticipated although DoD had already stopped all related personnel actions, such as discharging troops who refused the shot.
Troops who sought exemptions and were denied will have their records updated and any letters of reprimand will be removed, the memo says, adding that anyone who was discharged can petition their military service to request a change in their personnel records in the characterization of their discharge.
According to data compiled by the military as of early December, there have been 2,041 discharged from the Navy, 1,841 from the Army, and 834 from the Air Force, including the Space Force with the Marine Corps leading the services with 3,717 Marines discharged for refusing to vaccinate.
Troops who were discharged for disobeying the lawful order to get the shot received either an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions.