The Pentagon formally dropped its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for all service members on Jan. 11 through a new memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that rescinds his original August 2021 mandate.

Austin’s new memo came after President Biden signed the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law on Dec. 23, requiring Austin to rescind the original mandate.

“The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all service members,” Austin said in the memo. “Vaccination enhances operational readiness and protects the force.”

The memo says that any service members who were “administratively discharged” solely based on their refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine can request a correction to their personnel records. However, it is unclear if those service members will be allowed to return to duty.

Austin first implemented the vaccination mandate in August 2021, after the Pfizer vaccine received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Following the FDA approval, President Biden announced his own vaccination mandate for the Federal workforce in September 2021. The mandate extended to Federal Executive Branch employees as well as Federal contractor employees.

However, enforcement of the vaccination mandate was paused in January 2022 after a preliminary court injunction blocked the mandate nationwide. The injunction was lifted in October, but guidance on the White House’s Safer Federal Workforce Task Force still instructs agencies to hold off on enforcing the mandate until the administration offers further guidance.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.