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Youngkin urges US defense secretary to 'indefinitely' delay military vaccine mandate

The Republican governor's letter to Sec. Lloyd Austin comes just days before the June 30 deadline for members of the Army National Guard to get vaccinated.

NORFOLK, Va. — Author's note: The video above is about COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. It aired on June 20.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and several Republican members of Congress want Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to indefinitely delay the military's COVID-19 vaccination mandate, according to a letter obtained by 13News Now.

The letter, co-signed by U.S. Reps. Rob Wittman, Morgan Griffith, Ben Cline and Bob Good, was sent to Austin on Tuesday, just days before the June 30 deadline for members of the Army National Guard to get vaccinated.

RELATED: Army National Guard troops risk dismissal as vaccine deadline looms

"A select number of [National Guard members] have made a decision not to get vaccinated and whether that decision is based on sincerely held religious beliefs, their own medical choices, or another matter of conscience, our nation should respect and accommodate it," the officials said in the letter.

The officials wrote that the requirement isn't "consistent with the latest science," impacts the Virginia National Guard's readiness and faces significant legal challenges.

In the letter, the officials claimed public health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), acknowledged that natural immunity "provides substantially similar protections" to vaccines. 

They added that therapeutics have become more efficient and the severity of COVID-19 variants has dramatically waned since vaccinations were ordered in August 2021.

"States and businesses have largely dropped mask and vaccines mandates, and likewise, federal agencies such as the FAA no longer require vaccines or masks," the officials wrote.

The letter continued with the officials saying the mandate would unnecessarily impact troop readiness, "at a time when the Virginia National Guard has substantial deployments and as our nation enters hurricane season."

"These guardsmen deserve the opportunity to continue to serve, and we need them," the officials wrote.

The officials concluded by saying legal challenges should be fully resolved before the mandate is implemented. They said: "At a minimum, the July 1 deadline should be extended pending the federal litigation."

Austin has pushed back against Republican governors' requests to lift COVID-19 vaccine requirements for the military. In January 2022, he wrote to seven Republican governors explaining the importance of the mandate, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

According to AP's report, Austin told the governors that COVID-19 “takes our service members out of the fight, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements."

On the other hand, Youngkin is known for his opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, even though he supports people getting vaccinated. 

Part of his administration's plan to combat COVID-19 is encouraging unvaccinated people to get the shot, but in a way that would "empower Virginians with choices, not mandates." He also rescinded the vaccine mandate for state employees in one of his first executive orders.

As of June 29, the CDC still strongly recommends people get the COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the risk of severe illness and death from the virus. On the agency's website, health officials note that getting vaccinated is better than getting infected with the virus itself.

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