U.S. Navy sailors who refuse to get vaccinated for COVID-19 will be separated from the force and could lose some of their veterans’ benefits, according to Navy policy released Tuesday.
The deadline for full vaccination is November 28. A sailor can apply for an exemption due to medical or religious reasons but should that request be denied, he or she must start vaccinations within five days of receiving that disapproval.
“Beyond that deadline, commands will begin processing them for discharge,” Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs MC1 Mark Faram said, citing vaccination compliance as a requirement for operational readiness.
Sailors who reject the vaccine could also lose education benefits, promotions and bonus pay.
More than 99% of active duty sailors have received at least one COVID-19 shot, with 95% of that force fully vaccinated. Reserve sailors have until December 28 to get vaccinated.
A Navy official told VOA on Tuesday that the Navy has so far granted six permanent medical exemptions.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo August 25 requiring service members to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face penalties, leaving deadlines for vaccination compliance to the service branches.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Wednesday that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “supports” the Navy’s latest policy decision.
The Air Force deadline of November 2 was the first of U.S. military services. At the time, about 10,000 active duty airmen and Space Force guardians remained unvaccinated for COVID-19. Approximately half were seeking religious exemptions, and 800 verbally refused the vaccine, according to Air Force data.
The Air Force and Space Force have granted more than 1,800 exemptions for medical or administrative reasons, such as when a service member is months away from retiring from the force.
Data provided to VOA from the military service branches Tuesday showed 97% of the Air Force and Space Force, 95% of the Army, and 94% of the Marine Corps are fully or partially vaccinated.
Active duty troops are vaccinated at a much higher rate than their Reserve and Guard counterparts, some of whom have deadlines as late as June 30, 2022.
Meanwhile, members of the Oklahoma National Guard are getting conflicting instructions from the Pentagon and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt regarding the vaccine requirement.
The new commander of Oklahoma’s National Guard, Brigadier General Thomas Mancino, issued an updated COVID-19 vaccine policy Friday saying Guardsmen would not have to be vaccinated.
Mancino was appointed after the state’s Republican governor fired his predecessor, Major General Mike Thompson.
The Pentagon, however, says the defense secretary has the authority to require vaccines for all members of the force, including members of the National Guard, which answers to state governors and the president.
“It is a lawful order and a legal requirement for the Secretary of Defense and his authorities to require that the force be vaccinated against COVID-19, and that includes the National Guard,” Kirby told reporters Tuesday.