Military Exemptions for the COVID Vaccine Mandate

Why prior COVID-19 infection matters

I write to address a potential mandatory vaccine exemption for those servicemen and women who were previously infected with COVID-19.

On August 24, 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum determining that “mandatory vaccination against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is necessary to protect the Force and defend the American people.” In issuing this mandate, he directed “the Secretaries of the Military Departments to immediately begin full vaccination of all members of the Armed Forces under DoD authority.”

The military allows for medical and administrative exemptions. Secretary Austin’s memo made no mention of these exemptions; however he does state that “those with previous COVID-19 infection are not considered fully vaccinated.” Thanks for the guidance, Secretary.

Does a prior COVID-19 infection provide an exemption to the mandate?


According to Army regulations, examples of medical exemptions include “Evidence of immunity based on serologic tests, documented infection, or similar circumstances.”

For reference: Studies show that natural immunity from prior COVID-19 infection provide longer-lasting and stronger protection against infection than the vaccines.

Other studies demonstrate that “Individuals who have had SARS-CoV-2 infection are unlikely to benefit from COVID-19 vaccination.” There are studies that conclude “Results suggest that broad and effective immunity may persist long-term in recovered COVID-19 patients.” Yet another study concludes prior COVI-19 infection “strengthens preexisting broad coronavirus protection through S2-reactive antibody and MBC formation.”

This doesn’t guarantee an exemption, however. It might depend on the service. For example, Marine instructions, issued September 1, state that “A history of COVID-19 disease and/or positive serology is not a valid exemption from COVID-19 vaccination.”

What about other medical exemptions?

I also note that the exemptions provided above mention “underlying health condition of the vaccine candidate.” If you are in the military and are concerned about being forced to take the COVID-19 vaccine (and don’t have prior infection), please visit a doctor so that they can determine whether you have any underlying health conditions that might put you more at risk for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Exemptions are possible but not guaranteed. Pressure is coming down from the top to vaccinate every single one of you. This is just a brief summary and outline of your options. If this applies to you, please seek out local guidance whether through a doctor (to confirm prior infection) or a legal advisor to discuss other options. Good luck.