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Removing the U.S. military’s Covid vaccine mandate is a bad look

Nixing the Covid-19 vaccination mandate for the U.S. military doesn’t just endanger our service members — it sends a bad signal to the rest of the world.


Right-wing lawmakers have succeeded in stripping a Covid-19 vaccination mandate for service members from a gargantuan defense spending bill

The Senate passed the multibillion-dollar National Defense Authorization Act — sans Covid vaccination mandate — last week, teeing it up for President Joe Biden to sign. 

For leaders, foreign and domestic, hoping to spread dangerous conspiracy theories in the U.S. military, this ordeal is proof positive you can make it happen. 

My MSNBC colleague Steve Benen wrote a great explainer about how House Republicans wielded their power in negotiations to strip the military’s Covid vaccination requirement from the NDAA, against the wishes of top Pentagon officials. Other vaccination requirements the military had in place appear to be unaffected, which goes to show the dubiousness of the GOP’s stance here. 

As of this month, about 99% of active-duty troops in the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps had received Covid vaccinations, along with 98% of the Army. That leaves just a sliver of service members who’ve requested exemptions. Maybe they’re among the extremely rare group of people who could have a severe allergic reaction to the Covid vaccines.

Or — more likely — they simply refused to get their shots. Republicans have made these people a cause célèbre, just as they have civilians who’ve bucked Covid vaccination protocols. The GOP has continued caping for the anti-science crowd, even though studies have shown Republicans accounting for a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths, a phenomenon possibly linked to conservatives’ rejection of Covid safety measures.

And thanks to former President Donald Trump, we already know that much of the aversion to the Covid vaccines is contrived. Trump’s secret admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he deliberately played down Covid’s deadly impact to the public is helpful in showing how opposition to the vaccines became largely political. 

Republicans are effectively using the military to signal their allegiance to right-wing conspiracy theories — theories, I should add, that have been amplified in the U.S. discourse by foreign governments seeking to meddle in American affairs

These governments, often led by dictatorial leaders, have been hellbent on fragmenting the American population and turning people in the U.S. against one another for their own personal gain. 

Republicans, unsurprisingly, seem to have similar ambitions.

It’s bad for the United States, a self-proclaimed global defender of freedom, to accept the implicit suggestion behind removing the Covid vaccination mandate: that freedom from health safety is a worthy fight.

It sends a perverse message.

The fact that this move is demonstrably stupid and overtly political makes rescinding the mandate even worse.