Facing a July 1 national deadline for members of the military to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Governor Glenn Youngkin and Virginia’s Republican congressmen sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asking him to permanently delay the mandate.
“[T]his directive will unnecessarily impact troop readiness, at a time when the Virginia National Guard has substantial deployments and as our nation enters hurricane season. These guardsmen deserve the opportunity to continue to serve, and we need them,” the letter states.
According to a Department of Defense dashboard, over 1.7 million servicemembers, including the National Guard, are fully vaccinated. But about 40,000 Army National Guardsmen across the U.S. have not received the vaccine, with 14,000 who have refused, according to The Associated Press, which reported that 97 percent of active duty forces are vaccinated. The Air Guard is at 94 percent, and the Army Reserve is 90 percent vaccinated.
The AP also reports that unvaccinated Army Guard members won’t be paid after June 30, and mobilized troops wouldn’t be allowed to participate.
Youngkin and Representatives Rob Wittman (R-VA-01), Morgan Griffith (R-VA-09), Ben Cline (R-VA-06), and Bob Good (R-VA-05) signed the letter. It says that natural immunity provides similar protection to vaccines, that other treatments are improving, and that COVID-19 variant severity is decreasing. It also cites ongoing litigation as a reason to delay the deadline.
“In conclusion, we know you share our great appreciation and respect for the brave men and women of our National Guard. Their service and sacrifice reflect their commitment to our country and the principles embodied in our nation. A select number of them have made a decision not to get vaccinated and whether that decision is based on sincerely held religious beliefs, their own medical choices, or another matter of conscience, our nation should respect and accommodate it,” the letter states.
After Republican governors in other states pushed back against the mandate, in January Austin replied with a letter sent to the governors.
“COVID-19 takes our Service members out of the fight, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements,” Austin said in a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott obtained by CNN. “To ensure we maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of accomplishing our mission to defend this Nation and to protect the American people, vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components and units of the military, including the Texas National Guard.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Morgan Griffith” by Morgan Griffith.