The Pentagon announced a formal end to the mandated COVID-19 vaccination of military personnel on January 10, 2023. The vaccination rule went into effect on August 21, 2021, for active service members and November 30 for National Guard and reserves. The rollback was included as part of the recent defense authorization bill passed in December 2022.
Unfortunately, this change does not impact the status of an estimated 8,000 active and reserve troops separated from service for refusing the vaccine – the rate is about 99% of active and 90% of the reserve. At the time, those who sought accommodation due to religious, administrative or medical grounds were not separated. While about 16,000 applied for an exemption, 190 were granted.
In response to the ongoing criticism regarding vaccination, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a recent memo:
“The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all Service members. He added, The Department has made COVID-19 vaccination as easy and convenient as possible, resulting in vaccines administered to over two million Service members and 96 percent of the Force – Active and Reserve – being fully vaccinated.”
Records will be updated, but…
The various departments will update the records of service personnel who refused the vaccine, removing letters of reprimand or adverse actions related to the refusal. Service personnel were honorably discharged despite their failure to obey a direct order, but the dismissal ended their military career or put it on hold.
Military personnel can petition their Military Department’s Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military or Naval Records to remove any negative characterization in refusing the vaccine. With enlistment down overall, removing the requirement may help recruitment, particularly among the Marines, which lost a disproportionately large percentage and nearly half of all discharged.