The Defense Department formally lifted its Covid-19 vaccine mandate for military personnel on Tuesday.
At the same time, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gave commanders discretion in how or whether to deploy troops who were not vaccinated.
“The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all service members,” Austin said in a memo. “Vaccination enhances operational readiness and protects the force.”
Austin’s memo had been widely anticipated after legislation was signed into law on December 23, giving him 30 days to lift the mandate. The Defense Department had already stopped all related personnel actions, such as discharging troops who refused the vaccine.
Some 8,400 troops had been discharged for refusing to obey the lawful order when they refused to accept the Covid vaccine, which the Pentagon mandated in August 2021. Thousands of others sought religious or medical exemptions, which are no longer needed as per Austin’s memo.
Currently, the Defense Department administers some 17 different vaccines to military personnel where appropriate based on military occupation, the location of the deployment, and mission requirements.
Roughly 99% of active-duty troops in the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have received the Covid vaccine, along with 98% of the Army. The Guard and Reserve rates are lower, but generally more than 90% of their personnel have received the Covid vaccine.