House committee hears how military recruiting, readiness was damaged by Biden Covid vaccine mandate

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Danielle Runyan, senior counsel with First Liberty Institute, provided revealing testimony to a House select subcommittee on Thursday, exposing stark differences in Covid-19 vaccine mandates between the U.S. military and other Executive Branch-level entities.

Despite the recent 2023 National Defense Authorization Act language requiring the Department of Defense to revoke the vaccine requirement, national security remains in jeopardy as military service members grapple with the aftermath of the mandates, she said.

Runyan underscored how military vaccine mandates outlasted those in other government sectors. Service members who lawfully objected to the vaccination faced illegal treatment, contributing to an ongoing threat to national security.

Following the World Health Organization’s declaration of the Covid-19 outbreak as a public health emergency in January 2020, vaccines were available by December of the same year. Initial expectations posited that herd immunity could be achieved if 75% to 80% of Americans received the vaccine.

However, by May 2021, experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the president’s top Covid adviser, conceded that herd immunity was not attainable.

With a shift from the herd immunity approach, the Executive Branch began incentivizing vaccination with tax credits for employers offering vaccine-related paid leave.

By mid-2021, supply of the vaccine surpassed demand due to various factors including public skepticism. As a result, creative public health efforts emerged to increase vaccination rates.

Concerns escalated in June 2021 when a study found higher than expected rates of heart inflammation, or myocarditis, in U.S. service members following vaccination.

All participants in the study were previously healthy, physically fit males who developed the condition within four days of receiving the vaccine.

In contrast to these findings, President Joe Biden guaranteed complete protection from infection, sickness, and death from the virus for those vaccinated. This claim was later challenged, as increasing occurrences of “breakthrough” infections were reported and the implications of the delta variant remained unclear.

In July 2021, vaccination mandates were issued for federal employees, federal contractors, and military service members.

Despite growing evidence suggesting vaccinated individuals could still transmit Covid-19, these mandates continued to be enforced, significantly affecting the American workforce.

Despite eventual rescission of the mandates due to constitutional, statutory, financial, and other harms inflicted upon citizens, service members, and businesses, the military mandate remained.

An estimated 1.4 million active-duty and reserve service members were subject to the mandate, including members of the National Guard.

Runyan’s testimony offers a crucial glimpse into the sustained impacts of the military vaccine mandates, igniting concerns over national security and highlighting the need for further investigation into the management and outcomes of these mandates.

The U.S. Navy and the Department of the Air Force issued stringent Covid-19 vaccine mandates in 2021, with severe repercussions for service members who refused vaccination on religious grounds.

The Navy issued “Trident Order #12 – Mandatory Vaccination for COVID-19” on Sept. 24, 2021, declaring all SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen (SWCCs) who sought a religious exemption “non-deployable.”

The Chief of Naval Operations issued NAVADMIN 225/21 on Oct. 13, 2021, stating that members refusing the vaccine, absent a pending or approved exemption, shall be processed for administrative separation.

It also threatened to recoup training costs, bonuses, and special and incentive pays from unvaccinated service members. This potentially crippling financial penalty, which was not forward-looking but targeted past expenditures, could exceed $1 million per Special Operations service member, Danielle Runyan testified.

Following these orders, the Navy issued NAVADMIN 256/21 on Nov. 15, 2021, stipulating that service members whose vaccination exemption request was denied had to receive the Covid-19 vaccine within five days. Refusal could lead to immediate separation processing, adverse performance evaluations, denial of promotion, and possible loss of Veterans Affairs benefits.

The discriminatory policies led to Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden, a lawsuit brought by First Liberty Institute and Hacker Stephens on behalf of 35 religious service members, alleging violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the First Amendment. The court found in favor of the plaintiffs on Jan. 3, 2022, concluding that the vaccine mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs and failed strict scrutiny.

Similar circumstances led to the filing of Doster v. Kendall, a class action lawsuit citing discriminatory treatment by the Department of the Air Force against service members requesting religious exemptions from the vaccine requirements.

On Sept. 9, 2021, President Biden issued EO 14042, which impacted over 5,138 government contractors in the US. Biden required that federal contracts include a clause stating that contractors must comply with all guidance published by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force regarding Covid-19 vaccinations.

However, on Dec. 7, 2021, the U.S. District for the Southern District of Georgia issued an injunction against the order, determining that it went beyond promoting efficiency and economy in procurement and contracting and instead acted as a public health regulation. This development maintained the status quo, allowing entities to encourage vaccination without mandating it.

These controversial mandates have significantly impacted the U.S. military and federal contractors, inciting legal action and drawing scrutiny to the balance between public health needs and individual rights, Runyan told the House Committee.

“Considering a total of 19,460 service members remained unvaccinated as of October 4, 2022, this means we could lose millions in training costs, and hundreds of thousands of years of invaluable institutional knowledge,” Runyan said. “At a time when young Americans have no desire to join the military and military members are telling their children not to join the military, we should consider this a significant national security crisis.”

Runyan’s full testimony at this link.

Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup, who is a medical doctor, told the committee of a friend in the Department of Defense who was negatively impacted by the mandate.

“Further, not only did these mandates damage Americans’ trust in public health and in vaccines and cause people to lose their jobs, they also negatively affected our military. A good friend of mine, a physician no less, battling breast cancer was unfairly harmed by the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate. Her oncologist advised against the vaccine for medical concerns.”

The woman asked for an exemption but was denied. She still refused.

The review board voted to retain her in the Navy, they also “substantiated that she committed misconduct for refusing the vaccine,” Wenstrup said.

U.S. military branches, which are not meeting recruitment goals, can look to the vaccine mandate for one of the reasons, he said.

“Besides what may be right or wrong in this case, our military recruitment and retention has been negatively affected,” Wenstrup said.

Another witness to the committee said the public trust has been badly damaged by the Covid vaccine mandates.

“Our analysis strongly suggests that mandatory Covid-19 vaccine policies have had damaging effects on public trust, vaccine confidence, political polarization, human rights, inequities and social wellbeing. We question the effectiveness and consequences of coercive vaccination policy in pandemic response and urge the public health community and policymakers to return to non-discriminatory, trust- based public health approaches,” said Kevin Bardosh, affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington. His testimony can be seen here.

22 COMMENTS

  1. I acknowledge the defenders of democracy are not necessarily practitioners of it professionally. It’s not practical to take a vote before assaulting a heavily fortified position.

    POTUS, as Commander in Chief, had the authority to order the shot. It’s been done before.

    What was different here was the flat refusal to accept religious accommodation, legitimate medical exemption, or attempt to accommodate the troops when appropriate/possible.

    Biden was determined to force this on the service regardless of wisdom, need, or impact on combat reduction.

    One could be forgiven for thinking this was a not so subtle way to start purging the military of “problematic” (ie, not woke) members.

    Not only did it cost us many veteran warriors, it put a chill on recruiting that lingers to this day. Smooth, considering Grandpa Sniffy seems determined to blunder into a major war we can’t fight right now.

    • What, pray tell, would be the religious exemption for not getting a vaccine? A ridiculous request as far as I’m concerned. You could use that lame excuse for anything. What, Jesus would be opposed to getting a vaccine? This kind of attitude is nothing new. There were religious leaders who were against Jenner’s smallpox vaccine as well, claiming it was against God’s will. The Taliban and other Muslim authorities said the same thing in the 20th century. So, people claiming a religious exemption are in good company.

      • Try a different Avenue of thinking. What if the commander in chief forced every military member, male and female, to be circumcised? Still believe there should be no exemptions?

      • …and Mr. atheist what off it? Are you the arbiter of whose faith is valid?
        Be it christian science believing in spiritual healing or Muslims worried about porcine gelatin in the shot, who are you to judge their reasons?
        You also conveniently ignore the medical exemptions that were denied. That made no sense. If your doctor makes the determination that getting the shot is not acceptable in your current health, who are these people telling you to take it or else….
        Nobody EVER addressed the unusually high rate of myocarditis in young healthy men. When it became obvious that this shot did not prevent the spread nor render the recipient immune (the purported goals of the mandate), mandatory vaccinations should have been discontinued immediately. Instead people continued to be forced/coerced to be injected with a substance that had little research and testing behind it and did not live up to the hype. The only thing the vaccine did very well was make the pharma industry gobs of money while they were legally protected from any repercussions.

    • i disagree with you, in order for him to place a legal order to take the shot, the vaccine would have to be approved first. this was not a lawful order because that vaccine is not approved and therefore unlawful and a soldier/airman/sailor has the duty to refuse that order.

  2. The damage that has been done to our country by Biden and his cronies is irreparable! All we can do is fight to get these idiots out of office and hopefully soon!!!

  3. I’m sure the DEI and mandatory race based promotions pushed for by the senior members of the DOD have nothing to do with recruiting and retention. The 20 years of GWOT and constant defense of a greatest ally halfway across the globe are not factors though… we should all be privileged enough to serve a foreign master.

  4. I hear “Biden” this and “Biden” that.
    If anyone thinks he is making any decisions whatsoever, they aren’t allowing themselves to NOT be lead around by the nose. The floodgates of misdeeds was leveraged over him to put his name on the ticket. A name the drones recognized.
    That would reduce the amount of illegal make up ballots needed to facilitate the façade

  5. Recruiting is down because people are waking up to the endless wars, and don’t want to kill children for corporate profits. Same with police recruiting. Why be a goon for a living? People have too much self respect for that. Being a jack-boot just doesn’t have the allure it once did.

    • Have you ever spent any real time with anyone who served?

      Your surface lack of understanding why so many do is…intriguing.

      • “Served” whom, exactly, TMA?

        Those in uniform who are minions for a corrupt, sociopathic and perpetual military-industrial war machine are not serving ME, nor any American I know. Least of all are they “defending freedom”; quite the opposite, in fact.

        The poster above you has a very valid point. Those willing to blindly follow corrupt leaders and orders, and be “good Germans”, are nobody to be proud of, or to honor.

        This kind of kneejerk knee-bending to those in uniform, and to the endless war machine which they serve, is one reason among several that I call myself a libertarian and NOT a conservative.

        • So Jefferson what EXACTLY do YOU want?
          When China chooses to invade or Russia crosses the Bering Sea are we back to the militia of yesteryears and fight a guerilla defensive action? Are you willing to pick up your rifle and defend this place or are you ready to learn Chinese or Russian? How many of our fellow citizens would do so?
          You describe military men and women as robot automatons without thought. Most military folks I know (and granted it has been a few years and I am not so familiar with the post 9/11 generation) are the most resilient, resourceful and conscientiously critical thinkers. They do not follow blindly, but they do understand the way this country is structured and the ultimate decision lies with the commander in chief, whom the people elected. Yes they are defending you by simply being there. You may not like it or acknowledge it but at least you should respect the choice they made for how to serve their community.

        • I’m curious how many veterans you know. If if you’ve ever asked them why they served.

          Just because people are motivated by things beside what motivates you does not invalidate them or make them lapdogs to your enemy of the month.

          • The problem is not what motivates “those who serve” (sic), the problem is the evil agendas that their misguided good intentions end up fostering.

  6. I am chuckling as I read these comments. When I told my 94 year old uncle I was helping in the mass vaccination effort, he mentioned he served as a medic in the Army administering the round of vaccines for new recruits, and he mentioned disposable plastic or aluminum syringes weren’t available then. He said he pitied the last one in the line-up, as needles dulled quickly.

    Another man, an instructor in college mentioned he was positioned at the end and his job in that shot line was to catch the men as they passed out. When it was all said and done, of more than 500 people who received the vaccine, I was involved in three instances where we had to help someone to a bed and get vital signs. One was a kid who’d not eaten yet for the day. One was a person with diabetes who’d not taken her diabetes medication nor eaten, and one was a woman who didn’t speak English whose husband had been scheduled somewhere else in the building and, again hadn’t taken her medication –for blood pressure yet that morning.

    • OKAY??
      We are glad you are amused and glad you are involved in your community? Are you just musing about the things you have done? If you want to reminisce start a diary or write a book. This is NOT the appropriate forum, as it brings nothing to the discussion.
      BTW three people passing out during a vaccine drive of 500 isn’t unusual and you should really watch out for your patient’s confidentiality, as age/gender and diagnosis of those who passed out isn’t any of anyone’s business.

    • What are you talking about?

      Your 94 year old uncle, real or fictitious, has zero to do with the actual topic.

      Related, unless you were actually giving Covid shots to soldiers your alleged actions aren’t germane, either.

      If you were giving Covid shots to soldiers, where? Red Cross or were you in uniform? The military is not in the habit of letting vagabonds with syringes give shots to troops (any service).

  7. Considering fact that this single person administered many shots, there is significant doubt that anyone could EVER figure out who needed that cold glass of water, Nutrigrain, and a few minute’s lie-down, whether I was working with military personnel or administering injections to folks in the military and/or their family members.

    As for Uncle Moe, well, he made sure he was among the first in line at the supermarket for his COVID-19 shot. In comparing shot clinics for military recruits then and nowadays, I seriously doubt anyone’s sensibilities of the efficacy and derivation of the vaccine was of great concern at the time. Historical non-fiction with regard to the original source of biologicals in commonly used nowadays is interesting for the inquisitive. ZJ and the Consortium libraries have a variety of holdings on this topic.

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