Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin dropped the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine mandate for troops after thousands of service members were discharged or quit.
Austin said in a memo on Tuesday that military leaders should still encourage all service members to get vaccinated and boosted but would no longer discharge those who refuse to be vaccinated.
“No individuals currently serving in the Armed Forces shall be separated solely on the basis of their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination if they sought an exemption on religious, administrative, or medical rounds,” Austin said in the memo.
“The military departments will update the records of such individuals to remove any adverse actions solely associated with denials of such requests, including letters of reprimand.”
The memo did not say if unvaccinated ex-service members will be welcomed back into the Armed Forces.
The Pentagon officially dropped the vaccine mandates after losing thousands of military members in the 17 months since the mandate was first imposed by the Biden administration.
According to Defense Department data cited by Reuters, 3,717 Marines, 1,816 soldiers and 2,064 sailors have since been discharged for refusing to get vaccinated. Many have voluntarily quit the Armed Forces rather than be vaccinated.
Austin said 96% of 2 million active service members have been vaccinated.
“The Department has made COVID-19 vaccination as easy and as convenient as possible, resulting in vaccines administered to over two million Service members and 96 percent of the force – Active and Reserve – being fully vaccinated,” Austin wrote.