The Pentagon has removed its mandate that all troops receive a vaccine against coronavirus.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a memo Tuesday announced the official end of the requirement but said commanders will continue to "promote and encourage" COVID-19 vaccinations. The annual defense budget bill signed into law in December required that the vaccine mandate be rescinded.
The Pentagon implemented the mandate in August 2021 after the Pfizer vaccine was formally authorized by the Food & Drug Administration. Since then, more than 2 million service members — or 96% of the military, both active and reserve status — have received a COVID vaccine.
According to the memo, no adverse actions will be taken against service members who have been seeking exemptions to getting the vaccine, and any service members who received a letter of reprimand or some other "adverse action" will have it removed from their record.
Those who refused to get vaccinated and received a general discharge can petition the Board of Corrections for Military Records to revise it, although the memo does not say what the correction to the record could be or whether those discharged could rejoin the military.
Click here to read the memo (PDF).
The annual defense bill gave the Defense Department 30 days to rescind the vaccine mandate, and Austin complied less than 20 days after President Joe Biden signed the legislation into law.
In the leadup to the passage of the bill, Austin remained a supporter of keeping the mandate. He told reporters in December he had established the vaccine requirement in the first place.
"I'm the guy who put this – has this requirement," Austin said, adding, "I support the continuation of vaccinating our troops. I know that doesn't surprise you."
In his memo this week, Austin said that going forward, commanders will have the ability to consider vaccination status when making decisions about deployments and assignments.
"The Department's COVID-19 vaccination efforts will leave a lasting legacy in the many lives we saved, the world-class Force we have been able to field, and the high level of readiness we have maintained, amidst difficult public health conditions," Austin wrote in his memo.
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