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Fighting Windmills: The DOD’s Battle Against Covid


Churchill observed, “Generals are always prepared to fight the last war.”  Relying on past strategy to deal with the present threat is not necessarily foolhardy provided battlefield conditions and technology remains constant, but it can lead to disaster in a dynamic environment.

The disastrous consequences of the American Civil War, the Boer War, the Russo-Japanese War, and World War I serve as examples of military leaders looking to the distant past to solve today’s problems.  Generals who adhere to Wellington’s aphorism, “They came on in the same old way and we defeated them in the same old way,” are more apt to risk the lives and well being of the soldiers they command than their personal careers .

In his memorandum of August 24, 2021 Secretary Austin defined the Covid 19 order of battle. The document stated that mandatory vaccination of members of the military was essential to defend the nation against the highly infectious Covid 19 delta variant and only vaccines receiving full licensure from the FDA would be used in the program. The program would be instituted expeditiously to all personnel without consideration of one’s immunity from previous natural infection. At the time the Medical College of Wisconsin published an article that echoed CDC guidance and summarized what was known of the delta variant: 

  • 80% of new Covid cases were due to delta, which was 65% more infectious than the alpha variant.
  • The symptoms of delta variant were identical to alpha variant, and those at risk for severe disease, hospitalization, and death were patients over 65 with diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and immunosuppression.
  • It also alluded to the benefits of natural immunity when noting that those not fully vaccinated or recently recovered from a Covid infection were more at risk for developing an infection from the delta variant.

Since the issuance of the DOD directive nine months ago, today’s landscape of the Covid battlefield is unrecognizable. The dominant, highly infectious but relatively mild Omicron variant has morphed into a disease that primarily affects the upper respiratory tract. Natural immunity, shown in numerous studies to be superior to vaccine immunity, is burgeoning within the general population, and the CDC reports nearly 2/3 of military aged personnel demonstrate antibodies directed against the nucleocapsid antigen. 

The mRNA vaccines are less effective against Omicron compared to previous variants, and a May 2022 study in JAMA showed that protection wanes in a few weeks after the second and third Pfizer immunizations. There is increasing evidence that the vaccine’s adverse side effects have tipped the balance against universal vaccinations.   A recent RTC Danish study published in a Lancet preprint noted a higher all cause mortality in vaccinated patients versus the placebo group. Many of the most intensively vaccinated countries in the world have the highest number of Covid cases and incidence of severe disease. 

How does the weight of this propounding evidence affect the DOD’s treatment of military personnel seeking a religious exemption from receiving the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine? Consider the current medical rationale cited by the Air Force Academy Superintendent in denying a recent religious exemption request and its applicability to cadets attending the Air Force Academy, who are 18-24 years old and in robust health. 

  • Due to the elevated transmission levels in unvaccinated individuals, the level of exposure risk substantially increases, putting other cadets and permanent party members at unnecessary risk of developing Covid 19.
  • Unvaccinated individuals are more likely to become severely ill and more likely to miss class or military training while ill or in quarantine or isolation. This puts additional stress on vaccinated members and affects mission accomplishment.
  • The Covid 19 vaccine is the single most effective tool in protecting the health and safety of each member and unit. It is the least restrictive means available to achieve the compelling government interest and mitigate the risk to military readiness … and health and safety. Other measures including masking and testing, do not provide comparable protection to you or those with in-person contact.

What battle is this general fighting? Like Don Quixote engaged in mortal combat against windmills, the battlefield conditions are distorted to suit orthodoxy, and fantasy is substituted for rigorous assessment of the disease’s risk to members of the Cadet Wing. The vaccine does not prevent infection nor transmission. Its beneficial effects, if present at all in this age group, rapidly dissipate within weeks after administration. The “single most effective tool” is natural immunity, not a vaccine that was designed for a coronavirus strain that was dominant over two years ago and no longer clinically relevant. The general grossly exaggerates the dangers of Covid 19 and avoids discussing the expanding evidence of adverse vaccine side effects and its risk to those under his command.  

The DOD policies formulated nine months ago to address Covid 19 no longer apply. The Omicron variant is a different enemy with different strengths and weaknesses that requires adaptable leaders willing to apply solutions based on real time information. In comments about effective leadership General George Patton observed, “If everybody’s thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” The DOD mindset of applying obsolete information to contemporary, rapidly changing problems threatens the defense of the country more than Covid 19. 

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  • Scott Sturman

    Scott Sturman, MD, a former Air Force helicopter pilot, is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy Class of 1972, where he majored in aeronautical engineering. A member of Alpha Omega Alpha, he graduated from the University of Arizona School of Health Sciences Center and practiced medicine for 35 years until retirement. He now lives in Reno, Nevada.

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