- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2022

House Republicans are pressing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to drop the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for National Guard members, saying the policy is hurting recruiting and affecting military readiness.

In a letter Wednesday, Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida and fellow GOP lawmakers said 45,000 Guardsmen are unable to participate in “crucial training” because of the mandate. They also said the rule flies in the face of new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that downplays the distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated persons.

“Our military could lose hundreds of highly trained, specialized and skilled active-service members that our nation has invested millions into training if this mandate is not lifted,” Mr. Waltz wrote in a letter signed by 13 additional GOP lawmakers. “At a time where our adversaries, including China, are rapidly expanding and modernizing their militaries, why would the Department of Defense continue to implement a policy that decreases military recruitment, retention and readiness?”

Mr. Austin ordered service members to get vaccinated in August 2021 and later said National Guard members must get the shots or risk loss of pay and being marked absent from drills. The move came after a number of high-profile outbreaks in the ranks, including several that forced U.S. Navy ships to scrub missions or head to port.

The Waltz letter leans heavily into updated CDC guidance that treats COVID-19 as a fact of life and downplays strict measures on society, given the breadth of immunity in society and available treatments. For instance, it says persons who’ve failed to remain up to date on their vaccination and booster shots do not need to quarantine at home if they were exposed to the coronavirus.

For months, critics of vaccine mandates have said they make little sense because vaccinated persons can catch and spread the virus, even if the shots afford personal protection from severe disease.

“Lawful orders must be followed by our service members, but it is also the duty of the military officers and Department of Defense officials appointed over them to thoughtfully reconsider any standing order that has been rendered invalid as the facts on the ground change,” Mr. Waltz wrote. “The Department of Defense vaccine mandate is more detrimental than beneficial to the readiness of our armed forces and our nation’s security, and we urge you to fully align the department’s COVID-19 policies with the [CDC] by rescinding the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.”

Mr. Austin has defended the vaccine policy as a way to keep military members safe and ready. In February, he wrote to several governors who took legal action to fight the Guard policy in their states.

“To ensure that we maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of accomplishing our mission to defend this nation and to protect the American people, vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement,” the secretary wrote.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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