The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) outlines financial budget and adds regulations for the Department of Defense. This year’s NDAA includes a repeal of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the military. The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed the House on December 8, 2022, and the Senate on December 15, 2022, and was signed by President Biden on December 23, 2022, just before the federal holiday. There was some speculation that President Biden would not sign the NDAA due to the inclusion of the specific COVID-19 vaccine legislation.
The COVID-19 vaccine mandate became policy in August of 2021, following the development of the vaccine for the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that time, there has been debate about the inclusion of this vaccine into mandatory vaccines. Military members are required to have vaccines, including the recommended vaccinations for adults, including but not limited to polio, chickenpox, pneumonia, influenza, and meningitis. They are also required to have Anthrax and Small Pox vaccinations due to the nature of their jobs. In fact, at boot camp, recruits are vaccinated for measles, mumps, diphtheria, rubella, and smallpox, depending on the service branch.
With the signing of the FY 2023 NDAA, the COVID-19 vaccine mandate must be repealed. Representative Adam Smith, a chairman on the Armed Services Committee, stated that while he did agree with the mandate for the vaccine in August of 2021, he wasn’t sure if it was still necessary. “But as we are here now, in December 2022, does that August 2021 policy still make sense? Is it still the right policy?” The COVID-19 vaccine has had few adjustments to include new variants after the Omicron variant, which Mr. Smith noted.
Thousands of military troops were discharged when they declined the COVID-19 vaccine. The NDAA does not provide a mechanism for those discharged troops to return to active service. Not that all of those discharged service members want to return to service. For those that are in the appeals process for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, it is unclear what their fate will be. If an adverse determination is already in their file, they could still be discharged for different reasons.
Time will tell how this decision rollback will affect current military members and when the change will take effect for new recruits joining the military. Per the CDC data tracker, about 68% of the American adult population has been fully vaccinated per the age schedule. About one-third of American adults have had at least one vaccination.