DOD to study whether COVID-19 vaccine helped or hurt troops

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Lawmakers want military researchers to determine whether the COVID-19 vaccine caused more harm than good for service members.

Included in the annual defense authorization bill passed by Congress earlier this month is language calling for “a study to assess and evaluate any health conditions and adverse events arising in service members on active duty one year after receiving the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.” Researchers will be required to report their findings back to lawmakers in December 2024.

The vaccine has been a target of conservative lawmakers for years. In the fiscal 2023 defense authorization bill, lawmakers repealed the Defense Department’s mandate for all troops to receive the vaccine. This year’s bill also contains a host of provisions related to potential reenlistment of individuals kicked out of the ranks for refusing the shots.

But the research mandate — inserted by Republican House members during debate on the legislation — takes that further, again calling into question the safety of the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that “serious problems [linked to the vaccine] are rare and long-term side effects unlikely.” They have also said that medical research thus far has not shown any increased risk of death associated with receiving the inoculation, while contracting coronavirus does carry an increased risk of death.

But the agency has documented allergic reactions and heart problems in a small percentage of vaccine recipients.

The study will look at “any health condition developed after receiving such first dose, regardless of whether the condition is attributable to the receipt of such first dose,” and “an accounting of adverse events including hyperimmune response” linked to the vaccine.

House Republicans had also pushed for language prohibiting military leaders from mandating masks to prevent the spread of future COVID-19 outbreaks, but that language was dropped in final deliberations over the bill.

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the authorization bill into law before the end of the month.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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