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Ranking Member Waltz Asks Secretary Austin to Reconsider DoD COVID Vaccine Mandate on National Guard

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Tuesday, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Readiness U.S. Congressman Mike Waltz (FL-6) and forty-nine other representatives sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin requesting the Department of Defense reconsider the Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and issue guidance that considers natural immunity, citing the crippling nature the mandate will have on National Guard readiness.

The letter was co-led by Ranking Member on Military Personnel Representative Mike Gallagher, Ranking Member on Tactical Air and Land Forces Representative Vicky Hartzler, Ranking Member on Strategic Forces Representative Doug Lamborn, Ranking Member on Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems Representative Jim Banks, Ranking Member on Seapower and Projection Forces Representative Rob Wittman, and Ranking Member on Intelligence and Special Operations Representative Trent Kelly.

To date, Secretary of Defense Austin has not yet decided to enforce the vaccine mandate on the National Guard and Reserves based on the arbitrary June 30th deadline beyond restrictions on training. If the mandate is enforced, up to 60,000 National Guardsmen and women could be subject to penalties, including separation from service. States could also lose much-needed personnel to respond hurricanes, wildfires, and other domestic crises, especially since these servicemembers have already lost valuable federal training to maintain their mission readiness.

Read the full letter here or below:

Dear Secretary Austin:

As you know, Section 720 of the FY22 National Defense Authorization (PL 117-81) requires the Department of Defense to establish uniform procedures under which servicemembers may be exempted from the Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.  To date, we have not seen such guidance and are past Secretary Lloyd Austin’s arbitrary June 30th deadline for members of the National Guard and Reserve to be vaccinated, or be subject to penalties, including separation from service.

Approximately 11% of the National Guard and Reserves remains unvaccinated.  The reluctance and refusal from some of these servicemembers to not be vaccinated comes from their personal spiritual beliefs and concerns about a vaccine that was initially developed and approved under expedited emergency-use authorization. 

Some of these servicemembers have been previously exposed to COVID.  Section 720 specifically asks the Department to consider whether this previous exposure induces sustained antibody protection, which may produce similar levels of immunity as the vaccine.

At a time when the Department is struggling to recruit qualified young men and women fit for duty to fill the ranks, and while China is embarking on a massive military buildup which threatens American interests around the world, we should not be hindering our own readiness and capabilities by punishing and forcing out experienced and dedicated Guardsmen and Reservists.

Further, as a result of the June 30 deadline, unvaccinated Guardsmen and reservists are not authorized to participate in federal training and war games.  Not only does this affect the service pay and retirement benefits of the individual servicemembers, it also negatively impacts the combat readiness of the units.

As a matter of national security, the capabilities and readiness of the fighting force, and respect for the personal rights of our men and women in uniform, we ask that you reconsider the Department’s COVID vaccine mandate and issue uniform guidance that considers natural immunity.