The debate over COVID-19 vaccine mandates has gained new battleground among America's armed forces. A vaccine mandate intended for the National Guard remains undecided by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. However, Representative Michael Waltz (R-FL) has announced his opposition to the mandate in a letter sent on July 26th.
The letter, backed by 49 other representatives including Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), and Jim Banks (R-IN), among others, urges Austin to reconsider its implementation. Should the mandate become law, 60,000 National Guardsmen will face penalties. Waltz's letter cites that this could be 60,000 less men and women ready to respond to natural disasters. Additionally, due to the June 30th implementation deadline, which Waltz calls "arbitrary," these service members lose training hours, service pay, and retirement benefits.
Further demand to suspend the mandate comes from a current lack in the Department of Defense's ability to find recruits. Waltz's letter contrasts this with China's massive military buildup that could threaten American interests. The harshest words are found here, describing the vaccine mandate as "punishing and forcing out experienced and dedicated Guardsmen and Reservists."
Subsequently, as the letter states, this is effectively a violation of service members' personal rights. Opposition or hesitancy to the vaccine, as Waltz and others argue, is based on personal convictions or concern. Similarly, the letter argues in favor of natural immunity. Because many of these unvaccinated service members have had COVID before, sustained antibody protection should remain a viable alternative. As the letter states in its conclusion,
"As a matter of national security, the capabilities and readiness of the fighting force, and respect for the personal rights of our men and women in uniform, we ask that you reconsider the Department’s COVID vaccine mandate and issue uniform guidance that considers natural immunity," stated Waltz.
It is worth noting that outside of the armed forces in particular, COVID-19 vaccination mandates remain a polarizing topic in the United States. Those in favor of mandates and those against are almost perfectly even, according to a recent study.