Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The US Congress is set to repeal the Covid-19 vaccine mandate for troops

US Congress set to rescind Covid-19 vaccine mandate for troops


WASHINGTON: The annual defense bill that is up for a vote in Congress this week would eliminate the requirement that members of the U.S. military get the Covid-19 vaccine. This would put an end to a directive that helped ensure that the vast majority of troops were vaccinated but also raised concerns that it hurt recruitment and retention.

The initiative, which was confirmed Tuesday night when the bill was unveiled, was pushed by Republicans, who were encouraged by their new majority in the House next year. In a meeting last week, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy personally pushed President Joe Biden to roll back the mandate.

The removal of the vaccination requirement, according to the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, was necessary for the defense policy bill to proceed.

"Across all services, we have real problems with recruitment and retention. Rogers stated, "This was gas on the fire exacerbating our existing problem." Additionally, the pandemic has ended, according to the president. We need to acknowledge that and get rid of this unnecessary policy.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, stated on Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had recommended keeping the mandate despite Biden telling McCarthy he would consider lifting it.

Jean-Pierre stated on Monday, "I would remind all of you that the Pentagon has a variety of vaccines it has long required." So this is the same old thing."

One of the most contentious differences in the annual defense bill that the House wants to finish this week and send to the Senate is the vaccine provision. It establishes policy and offers a path forward for future investments. Since it is one of the last bills Congress is expected to pass before it adjourns, lawmakers are eager to prioritize it.

A summary of the bill that was made public on Tuesday night stated that service members and civilian employees of the Defense Department would receive a pay increase of 4.6 percent. A review of the suicide rate in the Armed Forces since Sept. 11, 2001, broken down by service, occupational specialty, and grade, is also required by the legislation. Additionally, it mandates that the defense secretary revoke the COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

Leaders in the military acknowledge that one of the many factors contributing to their recruitment difficulties is the vaccine requirement. Officials are unsure how many young people it might deter from joining the military. The Army missed its goal of recruiting by about 25% this year, while the other services barely made it.

The reasons, notwithstanding, are complicated. Online recruiting was only marginally successful during the two years that the pandemic prevented recruiters from accessing schools and events where they typically locate prospects. Finding initiates is made more troublesome by the continuous cross country work lack and the way that just around 23% of youngsters can meet the tactical's wellness, instructive and moral necessities - with many excluded for clinical issues, criminal records, tattoos and different things.

According to a congressional aide who is familiar with the negotiations but is not permitted to speak publicly, lawmakers who supported the vaccine mandate came to the conclusion that it had accomplished what it was intended to do by achieving a high rate of vaccination throughout the service branches. They also concluded that meeting the Republican demands to rescind it would allow other priorities to advance. This information was provided by an aide who was authorized to speak publicly.

Austin issued a memorandum in August 2021 that carried out the mandate. It gave the orders to the secretaries of the various branches of the military to start vaccinating everyone in the Armed Forces who was on active duty, in the National Guard, or in the Reserve. They have not had to receive boosters as well.

Austin told reporters over the weekend that he still supports the vaccine for U.S. troops when asked about the matter.

Austin stated, "We lost a million people to this virus." The United States of America saw the deaths of one million people. This mandate has kept people healthy because we lost hundreds in the DoD."

About 99 percent of active-duty members of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, as well as 98 percent of the Army, had been immunized as of the beginning of this month. Sailors and Marines on ships, in particular, cannot deploy if they have not been immunized. Based on religious or other exemptions and the service member's responsibilities, there may be a few exceptions to that.

The Guard and Reserve have lower vaccination rates, but they all generally exceed 90%.

When they refused the vaccine, more than 8,000 active-duty service members were discharged for not obeying a legal order.

The number of troops discharged by the Marine Corps, which is much smaller than the Army, Navy, and Air Force, is significantly higher than theirs, with 3,717 as of the beginning of this month. The Military - the biggest assistance - - has released more than 1,800, while more than 1,600 were constrained out by the Naval force and 834 by the Flying corps. The Space Force is included in the Air Force numbers.

Over the past year, the military services were criticized for approving only a small number of religious exemptions to the vaccine requirement.

Leaders in the military have argued that troops have been required to receive up to 17 vaccines for decades in order to maintain the health of the force, particularly those who are deployed overseas. If they are not already vaccinated, recruits attending military academies or basic training receive a series of shots, including measles, mumps, and rubella, on their first day. Additionally, in the fall, they typically receive flu shots.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, military leaders have stated that the number of troops seeking religious or other exemptions from any of the required vaccines was negligible.

But the politicization of the COVID-19 vaccine led to a lot of requests from troops for exemptions. There have been as many as 16,000 religious exemptions, but only 190 have been approved. There have also been a few temporary and permanent medical exemptions granted.

Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Leader of the House Majority, said the Guard Division went with a reasonable choice in requiring an immunization since "immunizations are the manner in which you protect a local area." In any case, by the day's end, the bill needs to have bipartisan help to pass.

"It is by all accounts extremely questionable among conservatives specifically. I'm not entirely sure why. Hoyer suggested, "Maybe it's simply because the government is telling them that you need to do this."

"Clearly," he added, "the more individuals you have well at some random time, the good you are in answering right away, yet there's significant opinion on the opposite side of the passageway, which we want in the Senate, that accepts in an unexpected way, so we might need to think twice about."

McCarthy stated that the Biden administration must do more, despite his praise for the mandate's conclusion. He stated that the Biden administration "must correct service records" and not prevent any servicemembers discharged for not having received the COVID vaccine from reenlisting.

The defense bill will allow spending of up to about $858 billion. In total, the legislation grants nearly $817 billion to the Department of Defense and over $30 billion to the Department of Energy's national security programs.

In order to address the effects of inflation, provide Ukraine with additional security assistance, and accelerate other DoD priorities, the bill provides funding that is approximately $45 billion greater than the president's request for the budget.

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