Some vaccine mandates may leave US vulnerable at home and abroad as omicron numbers surge

Some states have used National Guard to support depleted health care work forces

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COVID-19 vaccine mandates have put some vital U.S health and safety institutions in a tough spot after cutting personnel who didn’t comply. 

Overlapping federal mandates for military personnel, state mandates for health care workers, and other private mandates have created an increasingly difficult situation in the face of the omicron variant as numbers continue to surge in some states due to the much greater transmissibility of the variant. 

President Biden in August issued a federal vaccine mandate that required military personnel in each branch to receive a vaccination, and later issued one for any business with over 100 employees. The military has insisted that the number of separations do not present a problem, but other sectors, such as public health and safety, have struggled to handle the loss of personnel. 

Each military branch had a different deadline, but by Dec. 15 each deadline had passed and the services began to separate personnel who refused to comply or did not earn an exemption on religious or medical grounds. 

People protest COVID-19 vaccine mandate in New York City, New York, U.S., October 25, 2021.

People protest COVID-19 vaccine mandate in New York City, New York, U.S., October 25, 2021. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

The Marines tracked for the most number of holdouts, with around 10,000 active-duty Marine Corps personnel refusing the vaccine and about 94% meeting the vaccine requirement. Some Marines who did not comply viewed the separations as part of a "political purge" by the Biden administration over beliefs they say the First Amendment protected. 

"The one message I got from the colonel above me was: ‘Tread very carefully, this is political, you will be crushed like an ant.’ And he told me that because he cares about me," an anonymous lieutenant colonel told Fox News Digital. "Do I want to continue serving in an institution that crushes people for bringing up reasonable points in defending their faith?"

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Other Marines said they faced blanket denial of religious exemptions, with their applications rejected without consideration – only a letter that cited "military readiness" as the primary reason for rejection. 

The Army, Navy, and Air Force recorded the highest levels of participation, with 98% of active-duty personnel receiving a vaccination by the deadline. 

A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest by New York City Fire Department union members, municipal workers and others, against the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Manhattan's Upper East Side, in New York City, Oct. 28, 2021. 

A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest by New York City Fire Department union members, municipal workers and others, against the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Manhattan's Upper East Side, in New York City, Oct. 28, 2021.  (REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo)

The Army in January will initiate involuntary separation for personnel who have refused to comply with the mandate or did not receive an exemption. Overall, the military counted roughly 32,000 personnel holdouts. Any loss of personnel may be felt in services that have reportedly declined in total size over the past several decades, and which face potential large-scale threats from China and Russia. 

Various states issued vaccine mandates for health care personnel in August, including Colorado; Illinois; Maryland; Rhode Island; New Mexico; Washington, D.C.; New York; Maine; Pennsylvania; New Jersey; and California, with more to follow in the months after that. 

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But as thousands of health care workers faced termination over their refusal to comply, Biden deployed over 1,000 military doctors, nurses, and medics to cover the shortage in the face of the omicron variant, which may further strain military health care services.  

"FEMA is deploying hundreds of ambulances and EMS crews to transport patients," Biden said Monday during a call with the National Governors Association. "We’ve already deployed emergency response teams in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. We’re ready to provide more hospital beds as well."

Medical workers wearing protective gear prepare to take samples at a temporary screening clinic for the coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. 

Medical workers wearing protective gear prepare to take samples at a temporary screening clinic for the coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.  (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

New York already has recorded 90% capacity in a number of hospitals, halting elective procedures to focus on the surge. The state terminated or furloughed around 32,000 health care workers at nursing homes, hospitals, and other health providers as of Dec. 21, according to data provided to Fox News. 

"We have a massive nursing shortage," Eric Smith, the statewide field director for the New York State Nurses Association, told the New York Daily News last month. "We have a vacuum in the double and triple digits all across the New York area." 

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Massachusetts and New Jersey are among the states seeing spikes. Vaccine mandates in those states also led to hundreds of firings and resignations.

Some governors, such as Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker deployed National Guard members to help support hospitals, but even the Guard has faced its own loss of personnel due to the federal vaccine mandate. 

Five governors called on the Pentagon to rescind the vaccine mandate for National Guard members, while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott outright refused to enforce it. 

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"As Governor of Texas, I am the commander-in-chief of this State’s militia," Abbott wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. "In that capacity, on October 4, 2021, I ordered the Adjutant General of Texas to comply with my Executive Order GA-39."

"If unvaccinated guardsmen suffer any adverse consequences within the State of Texas, they will have only President Biden and his Administration to blame," he explained. 

Police and firefighters are also facing personnel shortages that, in the case of police, began with efforts to slash their funding in many American cities and have been exacerbated by mandates to receive the vaccine or lose their jobs. New York City put as many as 9,000 workers including police officers and firefighters on leave for not complying with Mayor Bill de Blasio's vaccine mandate. A pregnant Boston police officer is challenging that city's vaccine mandate. Los Angeles firefighters are threatening to sue if they lose their jobs over a vaccine mandate. Seattle's police department, already strained by riots and officer departures, announced the mandate would likely force it into reducing services for the city's residents back in November. All of this takes place in the context of already demoralized police departments which have lost hundreds of officers, in some cases, and were already reducing services even in the face of a historic wave of homicides.