WASHINGTON (AP) – All US military services have now begun disciplinary action and discharges for soldiers who refuse to receive a mandatory coronavirus vaccine, officials said Thursday, putting 20,000 at risk of being removed from service. With unrelated forces greater than.
On Thursday, the Marine Corps said it had discharged 103 Marines so far for refusing the vaccine, and the Army said it had reprimanded more than 2,700 soldiers and would begin discharge proceedings in January. The Air Force said earlier this week that 27 airmen had been discharged for refusing to order a vaccine. And the Navy set its new discipline process this week, and has already fired a sailor from his command job for refusing a test while pursuing an exemption.
Military leaders have warned for months that soldiers will face consequences if they do not follow a valid order to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine. But it is only in the past week that he has begun to publicly comply with those threats.
It is not clear how many people may be discharged. But according to the services, at least 30,000 service members have not yet been vaccinated, but many thousands of them have obtained temporary or permanent medical or administrative exemptions. Of the remainder – which is likely to be 20,000 or more – thousands are working their way through the waiver process or are outright refused. That’s about 1.5% of the approximately 1.3 million active duty soldiers.
The figures reflect a calculated risk – that the number of soldiers forced from service to refuse vaccines was less than a threat to military readiness, less than the likelihood of the virus running rampant among unvaccinated soldiers .
More than 12,000 have sought religious exemption. And about 4,800 army personnel and air force airmen have flatly refused the vaccine without asking for exemptions. The Navy and Marine Corps have not released their denial totals.
Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s main concern is to get service members more immunized.
“What would he tell these individuals if he had a chance to speak to him directly, if they are medically qualified so they can get the vaccine,” Kirby said. “Get vaccinated as it is the best way to protect yourself and your units. It’s a concern of readiness – getting the vaccination rate as close to 100% as possible.”
His remarks came as the military became the last military service to reach a deadline requiring active duty soldiers to receive vaccines. On Thursday, the military said 98% of its active duty force had received at least one shot, but more than 3,800 soldiers categorically refused and could be removed from the military next month.
The Marine Corps said 95% of its force had received at least one dose as of Thursday. About 97.5% of the Air Force and Space Force have received at least one shot, and more than 1,000 have apparently refused. And 98.4% of the Navy is fully vaccinated. The Navy does not release single-dose people’s formulations.
Asked about the impact on military preparedness if service members continue to refuse shots and are discharged from service, Kirby said soldiers still have time to do the right thing.
“We obviously hope they will,” he said. “But if they don’t, it’s a valid order and has to be obeyed because it’s a legitimate medical need.”
While each service has developed its own procedure, all are following existing rules when a service member disobeys a lawful order. Being expelled from the army for refusing a vaccine has been done very rarely. But service members are routinely discharged for disobeying orders – often receiving honorable discharge or general discharge with respectable terms.
The largest military service, the military, reported the fewest service members seeking religious exemptions compared to the three smaller services – more than 1700 soldiers, according to data released on Thursday. In comparison, more than 4,700 in the Air Force, 3,100 in the Marine Corps and over 2,700 in the Navy sought religious exemptions, according to data released by the services last week. None have been approved yet.
Pentagon mandates COVID-19 vaccine this year For all service members including the National Guard and Reserves. Austin has repeatedly said that getting a vaccine is critical to maintaining a healthy, prepared force that can be prepared to defend the nation. The Pentagon is also weighing in on making vaccine booster shots mandatory For service members.
The Army’s 478,000 active duty soldiers had time to fire by Wednesday. The Air Force requires vaccines for active duty by Nov., while members of the Navy and Marine Corps had until November 28 to take shots and their reserve members until December 28. Air Force Guards and Reserves had until 2 December, and Army Guards and Reserve troops until the next. June.
“Vaccination of our soldiers against COVID-19 is first and foremost about the military’s preparedness,” Army Secretary Christine Wermuth said in a statement. “For those who continue to be vaccinated and not pending a final decision on medical or administrative exemptions, I strongly encourage you to receive the vaccine. If not, we will initiate involuntary isolation proceedings. ”
In addition to the more than 2,700 Army soldiers who received a written reprimand for refusing the shot, six were fired from leadership positions. US Military Academy students at West Point who refuse a vaccine and do not receive an approved waiver will not be commissioned as officers.
The military said more than 6,200 soldiers are seeking temporary or permanent exemptions, including 1,746 religious solicitations. About 3,900 have got temporary medical or administrative exemption and four have got permanent medical exemption.
Temporary medical exemptions can include pregnancy or other reasons, and administrative ones can include people who are retiring or in remote locations with no available vaccines.
Across the military, the vaccine response has mirrored that of society, with thousands reluctant to get the shot. But overall the percentage of soldiers — especially active duty members — who were vaccinated early exceeds the number nationwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 72% of the US population age 18 or older has received at least one shot.
Members of the US military are already required to have 17 vaccines, depending on where they are deployed, including smallpox, hepatitis, polio and the flu.