On August 25, 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sent a memo calling for all U.S. military members to be vaccinated against Covid-19. The memo instructs the Secretaries of the Military Departments to immediately begin to vaccinate all members of the Armed Services on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard.
Austin called to, “Impose ambitious timelines for implementation.” The memo says, “Service members are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or two weeks after receiving a single dose of a one-dose vaccine. Those with previous COVID-19 infection are not considered fully vaccinated.” Currently, over 800,000 service members have not been vaccinated.
In June, Representative Thomas Massie from Kentucky introduced a bill to protect service members. The bill, HR3860, would prohibit mandatory requirements that Armed Forces members must be vaccinated against Covid-19. His bill has 31 cosponsors and states, “This bill prohibits the use of federal funds to require a member of the Armed Forces to receive a COVID-19 vaccination…The bill also prohibits adverse action (e.g., punishment) being taken against a member of the Armed Forces because the member refuses to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.”
On Friday, Massie held a roundtable conference call with dozens of members of the U.S. military to hear concerns regarding forced vaccination. While Massie’s office did vet each service member, the members remained anonymous on the call for fear of retribution or backlash against them based on their opinions of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Even with exemptions, service members are feeling the pressure to get the vaccine. A service member who has been working on the Covid-19 response team for six months reported, “The pressure from commanders to get people vaxxed [sic] is intense. The individual is in the process of obtaining an exemption but alleges there is daily harassment from commanders who urge him to abandon his exemption request.” Two members said they are being threatened with a court-martial or dishonorable discharge for refusing the vaccine.
Current exemptions from the mandate include service members actively participating in clinical trials, religious reasons, and those who have a pre-existing condition and have been advised by a doctor not to take the vaccine.
According to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, “The individual will have the opportunity to sit with a physician and their military leadership to talk about the risks that their objection will impose on the unit and on the force and on their teammates. Commanders are expected to use a wide range of tools to help these individuals make the right decision short of having to take disciplinary action.”