Republicans Demand Repeal of Vaccine Mandate for Military
Congress is poised to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the military. Republicans refused to support the bill unless the Biden administration dropped the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the bill. According to the New York Times, the Republicans have the votes to eliminate the mandate.
Lawmakers unveiled an $858 billion military policy bill on Tuesday night that would terminate the Pentagon’s mandate that troops receive the coronavirus vaccine, a move that the Biden administration has resisted but that came after Republicans threatened to block the bill without it.
The decision to scrap the mandate, the product of negotiations between Senate and House leaders in both parties, was a victory for Republicans in a dispute that had added a politically charged and highly emotional issue to the annual military policy debate.
Top Republicans, especially Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader who is campaigning for speaker, have made getting rid of the mandate a top priority in the bill, arguing that the requirement amounted to federal overreach and eroded military readiness.
President Biden and the Defense Secretary pushed hard to retain the vaccine mandate, but Republicans adamantly opposed it.
A group of G.O.P. senators who pushed for the move, including Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, issued a triumphant statement praising the decision to include the provision “to protect service members” from the coronavirus vaccine. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida had also pushed hard for the repeal.
The military requires military personnel to receive a long list of vaccines, which Republicans do not oppose. But opposition to COVID-19 vaccines has become a culture war issue, and enough Republicans oppose it to block passage of the bill.
Biden administration officials have said they opposed a repeal.
“Vaccines are saving lives, including our men and women in uniform. So this remains very, very much a health and readiness issue for the force,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Monday.
Service members are required to be vaccinated against a whole host of viruses. Starting in basic training, recruits receive shots protecting them from hepatitis A and B; the flu; measles, mumps and rubella; meningococcal disease; polio; tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis; and chickenpox in addition to Covid-19, according to the Defense Health Agency, which oversees health care for the armed forces.
Those sent overseas are required to receive additional vaccinations based on where they are sent and any special duties they may perform, such as shots to protect against anthrax, rabies, typhoid and yellow fever.
Across the armed services, a vast majority of service members are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and nearly all are at least partially vaccinated, according to data released by the various branches.
The U.S. military has a history of vaccinating troops. It stretches back to Gen. George Washington requiring variolation, a type of inoculation, for his soldiers at Valley Forge in an effort to protect them against smallpox, according to Dr. John W. Sanders, a professor of medicine at Wake Forest University and an infectious disease specialist who served 23 years on active duty as a Navy doctor.
Calling the Covid vaccines “remarkably safe and effective,” Dr. Sanders said active-duty personnel take vaccines that pose greater risks — such as for yellow fever, smallpox and measles, mumps and rubella — “and do not bat an eye.”
“Being appropriately trained, equipped and vaccinated is part of having a strong military, and if people are in uniform, they need to take these vaccines,” he said.
So score a “victory” for the nutty right. They have succeeded, it appears, in “protecting” our military from a safe and effective vaccine against a deadly virus.