By Casey Harper, The Center Square
Federal COVID-era vaccine policies hurt U.S. service members, according to witnesses testifying at a House Oversight Hearing Thursday examining the mandates.
The Pentagon announced in January of this year that it would lift its COVID vaccine mandate but not before the vast majority of U.S. service members already were forced into vaccination.
Those who refused were usually denied their exemption request and often discharged.
Danielle Runyan, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, a group that has represented U.S. service members in lawsuits fighting for exemptions, testified at the hearing saying that 1,417,800 service members were forced into vaccination, many of whom experienced side effects like heart problems.
“While many Americans may have largely moved beyond the detrimental impacts of the COVID-19 vaccine mandates, one of our nation’s greatest assets – our military service members – are still suffering the consequences,” she said.
Service members saw victory in the courts when challenging the mandate, such as a group of Air Force members and a group of Navy SEALs who saw legal victories before the Pentagon lifted the mandate altogether.
The Pentagon mandate was highly controversial, especially as more data came out showing the vaccine was not as effective as initially billed and had serious side effects for many.
The Pentagon only lifted the mandate after Congress required it in a military funding bill passed in December of last year.
“After nearly 40 total lawsuits were filed by service members against the DoD and their respective individual armed services and secretaries, those who sought a religious accommodation from their respective branch of service are now one to three years behind their peers as a result of being removed from their duties,” Runyan said in her written testimony.
“As a result, many will be unable to promote and are faced with the future prospect of losing their careers,” she added.
Runyan argued this came at a significant national security and taxpayer cost.
“Considering a total of 19,460 service members remained unvaccinated as of October 4, 2022, this means we could lose millions in training costs, and hundreds of thousands of years of invaluable institutional knowledge,” she said.
“At a time when young Americans have no desire to join the military and military members are telling their children not to join the military, we should consider this a significant national security crisis.”
Though some lawmakers have fought to have those discharged men and women reinstated, that has not happened so far.
Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who is a physician, pointed to a friend at the Department of Defense hurt by the mandate.
“Further, not only did these mandates damage Americans’ trust in public health and in vaccines and cause people to lose their jobs, they also negatively affected our military,” he said.
“A good friend of mine, a physician no less, battling breast cancer was unfairly harmed by the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate. Her oncologist advised against the vaccine for medical concerns.”
Wenstrup said at the hearing that his friend applied for an exception but was denied, one of thousands of U.S. service members who received the same treatment.
“While the review board voted to retain her in the Navy, they also substantiated that she committed misconduct for refusing the vaccine,” Wenstrup said.
U.S. military branches have struggled to meet recruitment goals recently. Wenstrup argued the vaccine mandate played a role.
“Besides what may be right or wrong in this case, our military recruitment and retention has been negatively affected,” he said.
Because I Said So: Examining the Science and Impact of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates (House Oversight Committee)
Witnesses and testimonies:
Ms. Danielle Runyan
Dr. Kevin Bardosh
Affiliate Assistant Professor
University of Washington
Ms. Allison Williams
Dr. John Lynch (Minority Witness)
Associate Professor of Medicine and Allergy and Infectious Diseases
University of Washington School of Medicine
Wenstrup: COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates Trampled Individual Freedoms, Harmed Military Readiness (House Oversight Committee Press Release)
Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) opened today’s hearing titled “Because I Said So: Examining the Science and Impact of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates” by highlighting the Biden Administration’s abuse of executive power when it imposed mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations on millions of Americans without considering patient-physician relationships or medical freedom.
Contrary to what was promised, COVID-19 vaccine mandates did not stop the spread or transmission of the virus.
Chairman Wenstrup outlined the increased distrust in public health authorities created by unscientific mandates and argued that politicians and political motivations should never play a role in medical decisions between a doctor and patient.
Further, Chairman Wenstrup analyzed how the mandates drastically reduced military readiness by forcing healthy service members to choose between receiving the vaccine or face involuntary separation from military service.
The Select Subcommittee will scrutinize the harmful consequences of COVID-19 vaccine mandates in order to make improved policy recommendations for future pandemics.
Below are Select Subcommittee Chairman Wenstrup’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
When the first COVID-19 vaccinations were administered in December 2020, it brought about a feeling of hope in a very dark and scary time for our country.
There was a sense that this was a great opportunity to get the country back on track.
I shared this optimism. I hoped that the vaccine would allow our lives to return to normal.
As a physician, I administered hundreds of COVID-19 vaccinations in Ohio in the early months of 2021.
Unfortunately, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine will be forever tarnished by the Biden Administration’s decision to remove the doctor from the patient-doctor relationship and force COVID vaccines upon everyday Americans, the armed forces, and the federal workforce.
Despite repeatedly promising they would not, the Biden Administration decided to use the power of the executive to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccination on tens of millions of Americans.
A decision that tarnished trust in public health officials and for many, actually may have led to vaccine hesitancy.
Americans don’t do well when we simply say, “because I said so.” Americans want to be educated, not indoctrinated.
Sadly, one of the most impacted sectors was our healthcare workforce.
It is impossible to overstate the horrible irony that the very same people who we heralded as “heroes” in 2020 were so quickly cast-aside contributing to a crisis level of shortages across the country.
And these were medically educated, compassionate and medically concerned professionals.
This was bad policy, with a bad approach.
But it wasn’t just healthcare workers.
Between the Biden Administration’s five major vaccine mandates and the private sector mandates that followed, it became a choice, for many Americans, get vaccinated with or without medical consultation, or lose your livelihood.
Something our witness, Ms. Williams, is all-too familiar with.
Many people had very reasonable concerns about whether the vaccine made sense for them asked questions like: What if I’ve already had COVID? Will it affect my unborn baby? Am I at elevated risk of adverse events? What are the long-term side-effects?
I would contend that the COVID-19 vaccine saved perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives, especially of the most vulnerable in the short term.
No one can for sure discuss long term effects because we are still in the short term.
These discussions should have been between a patient and their doctor, but instead, the Biden Administration inserted itself and defiled this sacred relationship.
Unfortunately, for the government, “because I said so” was good enough.
No discussion with the doctor you know and trust.
No discussion on side effects, who is at risk, treatment options, etc.
Worse still, the vaccine did not prevent the spread of the virus – a fact already evident by the time the mandates were imposed.
Actually, we know from the trials that even vaccinated patients could get COVID.
No matter how much President Biden or others claimed or wished that the vaccines stopped the spread of the virus, the science did not support it.
If the vaccine does not prevent you from getting me sick, what is the utility in forcing you to get vaccinated?
What the vaccines did do was significantly reduce the individual’s chances of hospitalization or death.
Again –because they did not stop transmissions, this was a choice that should have been made between each person and their doctor.
To me, one of the most tragic consequences of these mandates is the distrust it sowed in vaccines more broadly.
In his paper The Unintended Consequences of COVID-19 Vaccine Policy, our witness, Dr. Bardosh argues that the government’s aggressive and inflexible COVID-19 vaccine mandates are a case study in how not to “uphold ethical norms and trust in institutions.”
This is important.
Further, not only did these mandates damage Americans’ trust in public health and in vaccines and cause people to lose their jobs, they also negatively affected our military.
A good friend of mine, a physician no less, battling breast cancer was unfairly harmed by the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate.
Her oncologist advised against the vaccine for medical concerns.
Her career was negatively affected as a result – putting it mildly.
Because of the mandate, she sought a medical exemption to temporarily delay getting the COVID-19 vaccine until she was finished with chemotherapy.
This seems to be a perfectly reasonable request – but apparently the Navy didn’t think so.
While the review board voted to retain her in the Navy, they also substantiated that she committed misconduct for refusing the vaccine.
This black mark on her record has likely hindered her from a well-deserved promotion.
She wanted to be vaccinated, did all the right things, and she was still harmed by this mandate.
Besides what may be right or wrong in this case, our military recruitment and retention has been negatively affected.
As someone who recently retired from service, this is highly concerning.
This hearing is an opportunity to conduct an after-action review of the COVID-19 vaccine mandates and, as the Ranking Member has requested, prepare for future pandemics by evaluating policies.
I look forward to an on-topic discussion.
I would now like to recognize Ranking Member Ruiz for the purpose of making an opening statement.