In 1777, George Washington led the first mandatory military vaccination program when he directed soldiers of the Continental Army to be inoculated against smallpox. Soldiers had the option of voluntarily exposing themselves to the smallpox pustules either by scratching their arms or inhaling it through their noses.1
The story of George Washington being the first to institute mandatory vaccinations was often reported in news stories outlining the constitutionality of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for the U.S. Armed Forces.2 3 What was left out of the majority of these articles was the fact that the smallpox vaccine was not invented until 1796 and infection via direct skin exposure to infected smallpox pustules or inhalation was the method of inoculation. One Washington Post article was titled: Mandatory Vaccination for the Military: As American as George Washington.2
The military has continued to institute forced vaccination policies for the military, with Congress expressing particular interest in U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) mandatory anthrax vaccination policies in the 1990s and resuming again with discussion of the COVID vaccines.1 In general, the DoD requirements follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended adult vaccination schedule, including yearly influenza shots. While certain vaccines are required for all servicemembers, additional vaccines such as the rabies or Japanese Encephalitis vaccines may be required based upon deployment locations or Areas of Responsibility (AOR).4
Mandatory vaccinations required upon entering basic training include:4
- Adenovirus Types 4 and 7
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
The Navy and Marine Corps have an additional requirement for the Yellow Fever vaccine.5
According to U.S. Army Basics, the number of shots received at basic training will depend on a person’s vaccination history and usually only the shots needed are administered. The Army website states, “Oh, and don’t worry, the floors in the ‘shot room’ are padded in case the guy next to you passes out.”5
Exemptions Available to Military for Mandatory Vaccinations
Servicemembers may request to opt out of mandatory vaccinations by filing for one of three exemptions—medical, religious, or administrative. Medical exemptions apply for certain CDC-approved underlying health condition or a history of vaccine adverse reactions that are CDC-approved contraindications to a particular vaccine. Administrative exemptions exist for servicemembers who may be separating or retiring from the military within 180 days.
Religious exemptions can be filed if vaccinations violate a servicemember’s religious beliefs. These exemptions must be discussed with U.S. military chaplain representatives and may be revoked at any time if there is an imminent risk of exposure to a particular disease by a servicemember.4
Thousands of COVID Vaccine Religious Exemptions Filed, Very Few Granted
Despite a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby stating that religious freedom, and thus religious vaccine exemptions were taken “seriously” in the military, exemptions citing religious reasons for refusing COVID vaccine were denied for the majority of those who filed a religious exemption. A CNN article in February 2022 stated that of 16,000 religious exemptions filed, only 15 were granted.6
The U.S. Army website lists eight approved religious exemptions out of 4,302 filed within that particular military branch.7 Several lawsuits are in place challenging the constitutionality of the mandates on behalf of servicemembers.8
In August 2021, Kirby stated:
We take freedom of religion and worship seriously, in the military, it’s one of the things that we sign up to defend, and so it’s something that’s done very carefully.9
Military May Waive Informed Consent for Drugs and Vaccines
According to DoD Instruction 6205.2, investigational drugs and vaccines that have not been approved by the FDA may be administered to military personnel for force health protection (FHP) purposes.4 In most cases, these products are given or administered after servicemembers receive informed consent. However, DoD may request a waiver of informed consent in certain instances for particular military operations. This waiver would allow for officials to bypass soldiers legal right to informed consent.4
Waiver of informed consent falls under U.S. Code Section 1107 of Title X and requires authorization from the President of the United States. Under the Feres doctrine, servicemembers are prohibited from filing medical malpractice lawsuits against the United States but they may seek recourse through other avenues, such as disability through Veterans Affairs or filing with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.4
Unapproved Anthrax Vaccine Caused Severe Side Effects and Disability
Beginning in 1998, the Pentagon made the investigational anthrax vaccine mandatory, even though it was only licensed for protection against cutaneous (skin) acquired anthrax and not inhalation anthrax, which is the most likely type of weaponized anthrax that would affect military personnel. Shortly after anthrax vaccine was routinely administered to servicemembers, there were many reports of often debilitating side effects.
A survey conducted by Congress’s General Accounting Office (GAO) found that 85 percent of troops who received the anthrax vaccine had an adverse reaction, a rate much higher than the 30 percent reaction rate claimed by the vaccine manufacturer, BioPort Corp. (now Emergent Biosolutions, Inc.). Some servicemembers who refused to get anthrax shots were disciplined or court martialed.
The mandatory anthrax vaccination policy and serious side effects resulted in thousands of soldiers leaving the military. The GAO reported that the policy “appears to have adversely affected the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve in terms of retaining needed experienced personnel.”10
In March 2003, a lawsuit was filed against the FDA, DoD, and Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of U.S. military personnel, who were injured by the anthrax vaccine. In October 2004, a U.S. District Court Judge halted the Pentagon’s mandatory anthrax vaccination program, ruling that the DoD could not legally administer the vaccine unless it was fully licensed as safe and effective against inhalation anthrax.11 By this time, the anthrax vaccine had already been administered to over 1.2 million troops.
In 2006, the Pentagon resumed mandatory anthrax vaccinations for soldiers serving in specific areas of responsibility after the FDA licensed the anthrax vaccine as “safe and effective” against inhalation anthrax.12 In 2018, the Army suspended mandatory anthrax (and smallpox) vaccinations “for routine adult immunization medical readiness.”13
Recent National Guard Mandate Worrisome to Lawmakers
The National Guard was the final military branch to be directed to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine with a deadline of June 30, 2022. As of July 27, the total number of unvaccinated Guard and Reserve members hovered at 39,600. Those who remain unvaccinated are at risk of being discharged, worrying lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the Guard could be left crippled.14
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who implemented mandatory COVID vaccinations for all U.S. Armed Forces, recently tested positive for the virus for the second time, despite being fully vaccinated with two boosters.15
House Representatives Protest Mandatory Vaccination for Armed Forces
Several Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, including medical doctor Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina, penned a formal protest of compulsory COVID vaccinations within the military, citing Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent comments about the vaccine’s inability to prevent against infection.16
Dr. Fauci said:
Even though it didn’t protect me against infection, I feel confident that it made a major role in protecting me from progressing to severe disease.16
The letter penned by the Republican representatives stated that forcing the vaccination upon healthy service members, who are not an at-risk population, had no scientific reason behind it. The letter reads:
With the waning efficacy and durability of vaccine-induced immunity, forcing service members who are by and large a healthy and not an ‘at risk’ population, to be inoculated with no certainty of preventing infection or spread, while concurrently sowing seeds of division and discord, is absolutely wrong.16
If you would like to receive an e-mail notice of the most recent articles published in The Vaccine Reaction each week, click here.Click here to view References:
1 Thompson M. George Washington’s Mount Vernon: Smallpox. The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
2 Brockwell G. Mandatory immunization for the military: As American as George Washington. The Washington Post Aug. 26, 2021.
3 Spencer C. Why George Washington mandated inoculations. The Hill Sept. 20, 2021.
4 Defense health primer: military vaccinations. Congressional Research Service Aug. 6, 2021.
5 Army shots. U.S. Army Basics.
6 Liebermann O, Kaufman E. US military has approved religious exemptions to vaccine mandate for 15 service members out of 16,000 requests. CNN Feb. 17, 2022.
7 U.S. Army Public Affairs. Department of the Army announces updated COVID-19 vaccination statistics. May 6, 2022.
8 Temin T. Yet another lawsuit challenging military’s religious accommodation process for vaccines. Federal News Network June 10, 2022.
9 Lopez C. Services will make calls on religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccinations. U.S. Department of Defense Aug. 10, 2021.
10 Dyer O. US judge halts compulsory anthrax vaccination for soldiers. BMJ Nov. 6, 2004.
11 Hobley N. All members of the U.S. Armed Forces will be required to be vaccinated for COVID. The Vaccine Reaction Aug. 16, 2021.
12 Parpia R, Fisher BL. The anthrax vaccine and Gulf War illness. The Vaccine Reaction Apr. 30, 2017.
13 Department of the Army. Memorandum: Cessation of Mandatory Anthrax and Smallpox Vaccinations for Routine Adult Immunization Medical Readiness. June 4, 2018.
14 Hobley N. COVID vaccine mandates could crippled National Guard. The Vaccine Reaction Aug. 7, 2021.
15 Associated Press. Defense Secretary Austin Lloyd gets COVID-19 for second time. LA Times Aug. 15, 2022.
16 Cina M. House republicans slam Biden admin for still mandating COVID-19 vaccines in military: ‘no scientific reason’. Fox News July 26, 2022.
So glad I got out in 1996. I have NO idea what they injected us with anyway, they didn’t tell. Knowing everything I know now, I’d never go into the service! They can inject you with anything experimental and NOT tell you! Look at “Vaccine A” did to Gulf war soldiers.