WASHINGTON, D.C. – A top Pentagon official confirmed on Thursday that the U.S. Department of Defense has officially withdrawn its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all military personnel.
Brigadier General Pat Ryder made the announcement to reporters during a press briefing, saying, “We have rescinded the mandate.”
The Pentagon had ordered all members of the U.S. military to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in August 2021, a decree that was announced via a memo from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said at the time that it was necessary to maintain the nation’s fighting force at peak readiness.
“To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Austin said at the time. “After careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership, and with the support of the President, I have determined that mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people.”
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby confirmed that exceptions will only be made for service members on the grounds of religious objections or those who have a health condition; however, those exceptions proved exceedingly difficult to qualify for, leading to several lawsuits.
Especially noteworthy among those legal challenges to the vaccination mandate was a federal class-action lawsuit filed in June 2022 by nine unvaccinated Air Force members who requested a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to protect them from punitive measures while their case was heard before the court.
Court documents filed by the plaintiff’s attorneys argued that, since the majority of the U.S. civilian population and members of the military have been fully-vaccinated – and vaccination is no guarantee against catching COVID-19 – that it is pointless to enforce for the Pentagon to enforce its mandate.
By the end of 2022, approximately 8,500 members of the military had been discharged for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Ryder, when speaking to reporters on Thursday, noted that the Pentagon is currently developing alternative guidelines on COVID inoculation in the wake of the vaccination mandate being rescinded.
“We’ll be sure to keep members of the force, we’ll keep you, and keep the public updated, as we have new information available to provide,” he said. “I will say that we will continue to encourage all of our service members, civilian employees, and our contractor personnel to get vaccinated and boosted to ensure the readiness of our force. And as I’ve said, the health and readiness of our force will continue to be crucial to our ability to defend the nation.”