Republicans say the mandate raises serious questions on readiness and morale, with concerns that discharging unvaccinated troops will cripple the armed forces.
“This haphazardly implemented and politically motivated vaccine mandate must be immediately suspended or risk irrevocable damage to our national security,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote in an Oct. 18 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
In an emailed statement to The Epoch Times, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the department is aware of Inhofe’s letter and concerns and “will reply to them appropriately.”
“That said, Secretary Austin remains convinced that our vaccination regimen—which has helped us achieve a fully vaccinated rate of nearly 85 percent in the active component and more than 66 percent across the active, guard, and reserve components—is, in fact, one of the surest ways to bolster our readiness for the challenges we face around the world,” Kirby said.
“He remains comfortable with the service-appropriate ways in which each military department is pursuing their mandatory vaccination program. A vaccinated force is a protected force, better able to deploy and to defend our interests around the world.”
According to the most recent statistics released by the Pentagon, hundreds of thousands of service members remain unvaccinated just weeks before the mandate deadlines start arriving.
Some have filed for religious or medical exemptions, but few of those applications have been acted upon, lawyers say. Branch spokespersons either declined to say whether any exemptions have yet been approved or rejected, declined to comment, or didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time.
The first deadline is Nov. 2 for active-duty Air Force personnel, though Coast Guard members are being told to get vaccinated “immediately, as soon as operations allow,” a spokesperson said.
The Pentagon faces multiple lawsuits over the mandates, including a class-action suit filed in federal court in Florida on Oct. 15.
Correction: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated which force has the first deadline. It’s the Air Force. The Epoch Times regrets the error.