[Lt Gen Rod Bishop USA (ret) and MG Joe Arbuckle USA (ret) assisted with this article.]
The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) rescinded the DOD’s mandatory Covid 19 vaccine policy, providing an opportunity to refocus the military on its primary responsibilities and objectives. With recruitment goals at a 50-year low and desperate hopes that the “Top Gun” sequel would regenerate the desire to serve, it serves no purpose to compound the crisis by punishing those who in good faith refused to receive an experimental vaccine.
From the outset the vaccine program has been controversial and fraught with ambiguity. Members of the armed services, who are young and healthy, bear little risk of severe disease, and the vaccine does not protect them against infection or transmission. The normal 10-year safety trial period for gene therapy products was condensed to months, and soon the mRNA vaccine garnered a higher incidence of adverse side effects than all other vaccines combined since 1990.
Efficacy questions aside, from the initiation of the DOD vaccine program in August 2021 until its conclusion in January 2023, confusion and mixed messages relating to its legality abounded within the armed services. Which vaccine product was actually administered—the FDA-approved Comirnaty version ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin or the Bio-N-Tech Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) product? Unknown to most military service members, the legal Comirnaty vaccine was unavailable to the public, so in defiance of Austin’s directive, the DOD instituted a comprehensive vaccine program using the illegal EUA version.
On Jan 10, 2023 the Secretary of Defense formally annulled the vaccine mandate for members serving in the military, but failed to address the 8,100 service men and women already discharged for refusing the vaccine, 46 percent of whom received honorable discharges and 54 percent general discharge under honorable conditions. Enlisted personnel, who represent most of those separated, generally lack the financial resources and access to legal assistance to contest DOD action.