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It's official: Dept. of Defense rescinds COVID-19 vaccine mandate

The elimination of the mandate was part of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act passed last month and signed into law by President Biden.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense has officially rescinded a mandate that all service members be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The decision was not unexpected, as the elimination of the mandate was part of a provision in the $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act passed last month by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum that rescinded the mandate, which had been in effect for members of the Armed Forces since Aug. 24, 2021, and for the National Guard and Reserve personnel since Nov. 30, 2021.

Despite the mandate no longer being in place, Austin said in a statement that he still encouraged service members, civilian employees and contractors to stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

"The health and readiness of the Force are crucial to the Department's ability to defend our nation," Austin said.

According to the Defense Department, more than two million service members are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while there have been more than 453,000 cases of COVID-19 reported among military members and 96 military deaths related to the virus. 

More than 8,400 troops were previously forced out of the military for refusing to obey the order, according to the Associated Press

It is unclear if they will be reinstated now that the mandate has been rescinded. 

The Texas-based law firm First Liberty Institute represents approximately 3,500 military members who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccinations on religious grounds.

The firm said those personnel should be returned to duty.

"I think that all of those service members should be brought back, because, as we have evidenced through our litigation, this has been clear discrimination," First Liberty attorney Danielle Runyan said in an interview with 13 News Now.

"The Department of Defense just continues on," she said." They may have, by way of a piece of paper, eliminated the mandate. But, the disdain for those who are religious, those who wish to continue serving according to their faith, continues."

Runyan said removing highly skilled warfighters such as Navy SEALs and pilots "is a tremendous national security issue."

But, she said, she assumes it will take litigation or new legislation in order for the removed military members to be reinstated.


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