May 20, 2024
President Joe Biden is facing calls to alter his pandemic policies after publicly thanking a Coast Guard member who is set to be kicked out of the military over his refusal to get vaccinated.

President Joe Biden is facing calls to alter his pandemic policies after publicly thanking a Coast Guard member who is set to be kicked out of the military over his refusal to get vaccinated.

With the Army National Guard falling short of its recruitment goal and the Pentagon widely refusing to grant religious exemptions for its vaccine mandate, concerns are rising that the policy will affect military readiness. Conservatives continue pointing to Biden’s ”
The pandemic is over ” statement on CBS as evidence that it’s time to drop the requirement.


“Biden’s hypocrisy came full circle after he called U.S. Coast Guard swimmer Zach Loesch to thank him for his ‘heroic work’ of saving lives following Hurricane Ian,” wrote the Republican National Committee’s director of faith communications, Andrew Brennan, in a recent newsletter. “He did so despite the fact that Loesch is set to be kicked out of the Coast Guard after the Biden administration reportedly rejected his request and appeal for a religious accommodation to Biden’s military vaccine mandate.”

Brennan predicted a backlash from religious voters in the midterm elections, and he wasn’t alone.

Retired three-star Coast Guard Vice Adm. William “Dean” Lee has publicly criticized both the White House and the Department of Defense for continuing to discharge service members over COVID-19 shots.

Lee, who is vaccinated, wrote in an open letter that he believes dismissing every service member who refuses the vaccine infringes on First Amendment rights and that it is a hindrance to military readiness because each branch is in a recruiting hole. Dismissing these service members would exacerbate that problem, he argues.

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a West Point graduate and potential presidential candidate
, blasted Biden over the mandate.

“Biden now says ‘the pandemic is over’ as he’s kicking tens of thousands of healthy soldiers out of the military with his COVID vaccine mandate,” he tweeted
. “These soldiers should be reinstated immediately.”

Each service has its own process for approving vaccination exemption requests (though a majority of them were denied), but they represent a small percentage of the overall forces, which overwhelmingly received the vaccine.

Hundreds of service members across all military branches have been discharged over their refusal to get the vaccine as mandated by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last August. Many of them applied for and were denied religious exemptions.

But the Biden administration appears to think it’s on firm footing.

Pentagon press secretary Patrick Ryder told reporters after Biden’s remarks that “we still have a requirement to vaccinate” for COVID-19. Members of Biden’s team moved quickly to clean up his CBS remarks and clarify that the White House’s many pandemic-based policies, including a $500 billion student debt transfer
, federal employees working from home, and expanded Medicaid benefits along with the military vaccine mandate, will remain in place.

“The president said, and he was very clear in his 60 Minutes interview, that COVID remains a problem and we’re fighting it,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “And we have to continue to make sure that we are fighting this once-in-a-generation pandemic.”

Biden has voluntarily ended some pandemic policies, such as the White House’s mask mandate, but has often had his hand forced by judges. That may come into play with the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate as well.

News surfaced in September that the military may have moved too fast in denying religious exemptions for vaccines. The Marine Corps has rescinded some penalties placed on service members who sought a religious exemption from vaccine mandates after U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday ruled that those who filed appeals could not be punished for doing so.

However, the Supreme Court has upheld the vaccine mandate itself.

With most pandemic policies fading from memory and most people having some form of immunity either from a vaccine or previous infection, the importance of the requirement is being called into question.

Yet the Bipartisan Policy Center’s chief medical adviser, Anand Parekh, still feels the requirement is necessary, comparing it favorably with other shots required for military service.

“The military requires personnel to be vaccinated against a host of infectious diseases, including influenza,” he previously told the Washington Examiner. “COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, particularly as relates to preventing severe illness. While new variants and waning immunity may impact how effective, this is not dissimilar to the varying effectiveness of the annual flu shot.”


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