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Department of Defense drops COVID vaccine mandate

Associated Press
The Pentagon is seen in this aerial view in Washington on March 27, 2008.

The Pentagon dropped its COVID-19 vaccination requirements Tuesday. The memo signed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rescinding the mandates also gives commanders discretion in how and whether to deploy unvaccinated troops.

The memo states that those who refused the COVID-19 vaccine on religious, administrative or medical grounds will no longer be discharged. The DOD will update service members’ records to remove any "adverse actions" associated with denials of vaccine exemption requests. Any ongoing reviews of exemption requests will also stop, the memo added.

“The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all service members,” Austin wrote in the memo. “Vaccination enhances operational readiness and protects the force.”

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Other departmental policies regarding immunization remain in effect. This includes allowing commanders to consider vaccination status of individuals in making decisions of deployment, assignments and other operational decisions — for example, when vaccination against COVID-19 is required to enter a foreign country.

Legislation signed Dec. 23, 2022 gave Austin 30 days to rescind the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The COVID-19 vaccine mandate originally went into effect Aug. 24, 2021 for Armed Forces and Nov. 30, 2021 for National Guard and Reserve personnel.