A Biden administration official told Congress that “natural immunity is not something we believe in” for members of the U.S. military who have had COVID-19, just days after a British study showed prior infection protects people as well as or better than vaccination.
The armed forces will instead continue to push service members to take the COVID-19 vaccine “and boosters,” the military undersecretary and chief diversity officer announced, before denying an inspector general’s report that officials reviewed Christians’ requests for religious exemptions only 12 minutes before dismissing them.
“We don’t know about natural immunity there, as far as how it works and how effective it is,” replied Gil Cisneros, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, after Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., raised the U.K. study during Tuesday’s congressional hearing.
“There’s no good evidence and the research is still going on as to how we need to progress with this,” said Cisneros. “But as for right now, natural immunity is not something we believe in for this, and so we are still moving forward.”
The Lancet, a world-renowned U.K. medical journal, published a meta-study Feb. 16 that concluded, “The level of protection afforded by previous infection is at least as high, if not higher than that provided by two-dose vaccination.” Numerous researchers have found natural immunity confers equal or “greater protection” against the novel coronavirus than the COVID-19 shot.
The political appointee’s statement seemingly flies in the face of the Democrats’ longstanding claim to be the “party of science” due to their faith in man-made climate change, a status highlighted by then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in the last election. “We choose science over fiction!” Biden told voters on the campaign trail in August 2019. “We choose truth over facts!” Cisneros confirmed the Biden administration will extend its insistence on vaccination.
“The department continues to encourage service members and civilian employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters,” said Cisneros, who is also chief diversity and inclusion officer tasked with “ensuring the workforce is representative and inclusive.” He said Biden’s vaccine-centered “policies continue to succeed at protecting our people and the nation’s security.”
Only a “small fraction” of service members refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine “and approximately 8,100 were subsequently separated” from their employment involuntarily, Cisneros said. His numbers come in lower than figures compiled late last year and published the day of the hearing by The Associated Press. “More than 8.400 troops were forced out of the military” by Biden vaccine policies, the AP reported—including 3,717 Marines, 2,041 members of the Navy, 1,841 from the Army, and 834 from the Air Force.
“Are we stronger or weaker as a country” after thousands of soldiers left military service “because of the vax mandate?” asked Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
“Congressman, I would say we are as strong as ever,” Cisneros replied.
“How are we stronger after losing 8,400 service members?” demanded Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., a combat veteran. The Biden administration had “unlawfully purged” these members from the service and should reinstate them “with their full benefits, with their back pay.”
Cisneros defended their dismissal as “appropriate disciplinary action” necessary “to maintain good order and discipline.”
Cisneros and Alford also clashed over the military’s mass denial of religious exemptions, often based on the fact that the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were developed or tested on aborted embryonic fetal cells.
Multiple Biden political appointees overseeing the armed forces, including Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo, testified Tuesday that each application for a faith-based exemption received “a careful and individualized review to ensure that we upheld constitutionally protected First Amendment rights,” which “considered the individual facts of each individual case.” Yet a memo from acting Defense Department Inspector General Sean O’Donnell last June revealed the Biden administration engaged in “a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by [f]ederal law.”
“The average review period was about 12 minutes,” O’Donnell said, which is “insufficient.”
“I don’t think it was done in 12 minutes,” replied Cisneros when confronted with the report.
“You’re on record saying the DOD inspector general is incorrect on this?” asked Alford.
“I think the DOD inspector general looked at some kind of numbers and kinda did it and wrote a letter to the secretary about his opinion,” Cisneros asserted without evidence.
Multiple officials refused to say whether they replied to religious exemption applications with form letters. But Cisneros—who entered politics after winning a $266 million Mega Millions jackpot and earned a 13% rating from FRC Action during his single term as a Democratic congressman—confirmed that the Biden administration only granted religious accommodations to those already scheduled to retire or otherwise leave the service within six months.
A review found 70% of those early in the Biden administration for refusing to comply with its vaccine mandate received a general discharge, rather than an honorable discharge, which usually indicates subpar performance—a possible red flag to future employers. Veterans wishing to dispute their discharge status must appeal to a military board of corrections.
Those fired over the COVID-19 jab may now reenlist, and stalled promotions may resume, but so far, interest has been low. The Navy had “single digits” of people who had been discharged from service attempt to return to the service, Navy Undersecretary Erik Raven testified.
The termination of thousands of enlistees, including an unknown number of officers—the Biden appointees refused to answer how many—comes during a services-wide recruitment crisis. The Army missed recruitment goals by 15,000 soldiers last year. Critics cite the vaccination mandate along with the Biden administration’s focus on teaching critical race theory and transgender pronoun usage as contributing factors degrading military readiness. “We cannot afford the loss of any more soldiers,” Alford said.
Yet some Democrats lamented that the COVID-19 vaccination requirement had been lifted. “I have to tell you, the fact that we now do not make it mandatory gives me great pause,” said Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., during the hearing.
Religious liberty advocates hoped the subcommittee’s initial meeting would act as a first step toward bringing justice to pro-life Christians denied the right to live out their convictions while protecting their fellow Americans.
“Repealing the COVID shot mandate for military members does not end the abuse our service members have endured. Our military members who love God and love America have been horribly abused and they must be honored again,” said Mat Staver, founder of the religious freedom watchdog Liberty Counsel, which filed class-action lawsuits on behalf of Christian service members. “Hopefully, this hearing will be the beginning of rectifying the wrongs the Biden administration has done to our brave military heroes.”
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