Austin to governors: Guards must get Covid vaccine

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirms in letters to seven governors the need for members of their states’ Army and Air Guard to receive the mandatory Covid-19 vaccine or lose their guard status.

In nearly identical letters signed late last week, Austin told the governors that the virus “takes our service members out of the battle, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements,” according to copies obtained Monday. by The Associated Press.

The letters, which have not been made public, come as military services begin to increase the number of active troops discharged to refuse the vaccine. Nearly 600 Marines, pilots and sailors have been thrown out of the military or fired from beginner training at boot camps last week.

Two of the letters – to Alaska and Texas heads of state – note that they have an ongoing lawsuit over the vaccine and that, Austin said, limited his ability to comment further on their concerns.

Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska filed lawsuits challenging the military’s vaccine mandate, but a federal judge has already rejected the Oklahoma challenge. The governor of Alaska was one of five Republican heads of state who sent a letter to Austin asking him not to enforce the mandate of the National Guard troops. The other four were governors of Wyoming, Mississippi, Iowa and Nebraska.

The most recent letters were to the five governors along with Idaho and Texas.

Austin’s response to them reflects the letter he sent in late November to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, in which he defended the department’s vaccine mandate as necessary to maintain military readiness and force health. At the time, he warned that failure to get the vaccine “could lead to a ban on the member’s participation in exercises and training” and could “endanger the member’s status in the National Guard.”

In the new letters, Austin changed a key word in that sentence, telling the governors that failure to get the vaccine “will” lead to banning members from participating in exercises and endangering their status.

“To ensure that we maintain a sound and clear military force capable of carrying out our mission to defend this nation and to protect the American people, vaccination against Covid-19 is an essential military contingency requirement for all military components and units, “including the guard, he said.

The governors who received the letters were: Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Idaho Governor Brad Little and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, all Republicans.

Alaska joined the lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Texas has more than 20,000 members of the National Guard, the largest contingent of any state. About 40% of its Army National Guard currently refuses to receive the Covid-19 vaccination “for either religious housing needs or otherwise,” according to the lawsuit filed in a federal court in East Texas.

It added that more than 200 pilots in the Texas Guard are also rejecting the vaccine.

The deadline for members of the Air Force to get shots has been exceeded, but members of the Army have until June.

Thousands of members of the active military and the reserves seek medical, administrative or religious exemptions or reject the shootings. But overall, the percentage of troops, especially active members, who got the vaccine quickly is high – with at least 97 percent in every service that got at least one shot last week.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 87 percent of the U.S. population aged 18 or older has received at least one shot.

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