Pentagon Pumps the Brakes on Civilian COVID Vaccine Mandate

·2 min read

The Pentagon halted its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for civilian employees after a federal judge blocked the Biden administration's executive order requiring the federal workforce to be inoculated against the virus.

"The Department [of Defense] has issued guidance, pausing all activities related to processing civilian vaccination exemption requests and any disciplinary actions for failure to become vaccinated for federal civilian workers," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters Thursday.

Judge Jeffrey Brown, who was nominated to the federal bench by then-President Donald Trump in 2019, ruled that the vaccine mandate is an example of executive overreach.

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"The government has offered no answer -- no limiting principle to the reach of the power they insist the President enjoys," Brown wrote Friday. "For its part, this court will say only this: however extensive that power is, the federal-worker mandate exceeds it."

The move, however, does not stop the mandate for troops to be inoculated against COVID-19, as they are also ordered to receive at least a dozen other vaccines against ailments such as the flu, smallpox and hepatitis. Some service members have already been booted from the force for refusing to comply.

The DoD is the government's largest employer, with more than 700,000 employees. Of those, 341,836 are fully vaccinated, according to the department's latest data from Wednesday.

Combating vaccines and pandemic-related mandates has become a rallying cry for Republicans, with the military at the center of several skirmishes. On Thursday, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy joined Texas in a federal suit against the Biden administration's vaccine order for National Guardsmen -- arguing that their troops are shielded from federal rules unless they are on federal orders.

Yet senior leaders in the Texas Guard described little expectation that Gov. Greg Abbott's suit will be successful, according to multiple recorded phone calls between officials obtained by Military.com. Roughy 40% of Texas Guardsmen are unvaccinated, prompting concerns that, if the lawsuit fails, those soldiers will have to be discharged from the force come the Army Guard's June deadline.

-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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