By Meghann Myers

Three active duty service members appeared in a segment aired Thursday on a podcast hosted by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, accusing the Defense Department of using the COVID-19 vaccine mandate to “intentionally purge” religious service members.

Air Force Capt. Jordan Karr, Army Maj. Samuel Sigoloff and Air Force Master Sgt. Nickolas Kupper made their cases from a variety of angles ― including religious freedom, controversy over the emergency authorization vs. Food and Drug Administration-approved version of the Pfizer vaccine and “natural immunity” to the novel coronavirus. But all agreed that the involuntary separation policy for vaccine refusal is part of a concerted effort to remove certain members of the military.

“If you are a believer and you are listening to this podcast, you need to understand that God-fearing service members are being intentionally purged from the services,” Karr said.

All three service members are party to one of several lawsuits troops have filed against the Defense Department and the services, alleging mostly that the religious exemption process is unconstitutional.

“It’s a purposeful purge,” Sigoloff added. “Anyone who would disobey an unlawful order is being purged out of the military, and there is a shadow policy in place that that is protecting all of these people enforcing this shadow policy.”

Sigoloff, a family medicine osteopath, contends that the vaccine mandate is unlawful because military healthcare providers are administering the Pfizer vaccine authorized for emergency use, rather than the brand-named Comirnaty product that has full FDA licensure.

This has been a sticking point for many opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, but the FDA has said that the two products are the same.

“The FDA-approved Comirnaty (COVID-19 Vaccine, mRNA) and the FDA-emergency use authorized Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for individuals 12 years of age and older, when prepared according to their respective instructions for use, can be used interchangeably to provide the COVID-19 vaccination series without presenting any safety or effectiveness concerns,” according to FDA guidance. “Therefore, providers can use doses distributed under EUA to administer the vaccination series as if the doses were the licensed vaccine.”

All three troops are subject to involuntary separation because of their refusal to get the vaccine, but they are in a holding pattern as religious exemptions are adjudicated and their lawsuit plays out.

Kupper, in particular, is two years away from retirement eligibility, he said, and so would lose out on a pension and medical benefits for his family if he is forced out.

Since the beginning of this year, as most of the vaccine deadlines have lapsed across the services, roughly 3,400 troops have been discharged for refusal, service personnel officials told lawmakers on Wednesday.

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