Following the recent full FDA approval of the Pfizer Vaccine, Pentagon officials have said they will require all military service members to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. In a memorandum dated 24 August 21, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered branch secretaries to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation."
Some callers have contacted the GI Rights Hotline for more information about their right to refuse the vaccine.
Here are some points to keep in mind.
The GI Rights Hotline is not a medical organization, and our counselors are not trained to give medical advice. For concerns about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine, our counselors recommend that people consult with medical professionals. Current reports indicate that service members who do not want the mandated Pfizer vaccine can meet the requirement by getting one of the other FDA emergency use vaccinations. As is the case with other vaccinations, some service members may receive a medical exemption for things like serious medical reactions to the vaccine or immune deficiencies. Medical exemptions will normally require evidence and recommendations from medical professionals.
Even though the mandate has been announced, we have not seen the actual policy at this time. Existing military regulations discuss a religious exemption for vaccines, but those policies still subject the matter to approval. Most service members have already accepted other vaccinations, which could make it difficult for those persons to establish a bona fide religious opposition to a particular vaccination.
It is also too soon for us to know what consequences are likely for people who refuse the vaccine. Our resource counselors are not attorneys and cannot provide legal advice to people charged with an offense. Situations which involve UCMJ offenses like disobeying an order are normally subject to command discretion in regards to what level of disciplinary action is taken. People refusing a direct order may be subject to court martial and or administrative discharge depending on the individual circumstances. Anyone exploring legal defense could benefit from the advice of legal counsel. If someone is charged with an offense, counsel is available through trial defense or area defense counsel.
Some people have been interested in changing the policy requiring vaccines. The GI Rights Network is not a policy organization, and consequently we are not a resource for how to overturn military rules and regulations. People seeking change at the policy level can seek out groups working at the policy level. At this time, the GI Rights Network is not aware of organizations working in that area. There is a bill in Congress (with 30 co-sponsors) to prevent a vaccination mandate for service members, and the offices of those Congresspeople may be a resource.