The U.S. Navy has started removing sailors who refused to comply with the coronavirus vaccine mandate.
While the overwhelming majority of active-duty sailors are fully vaccinated (more than 96%), the remaining bunch will get the boot. In a Wednesday announcement, the Navy noted that unvaccinated sailors can change their minds and get the vaccine, even after the deadline.
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“In order to ensure a fully vaccinated force, U.S. Navy policy is, first, that all Navy service members receive the vaccine as directed and, second, that any who refuse the vaccine be processed for separation at the earliest possible opportunity,” said Vice Adm. John B. Nowell Jr., the chief of naval personnel. “While the vast majority of Navy service members have already received the vaccine, it remains in the interest of the Navy to encourage remaining Navy service members to become fully vaccinated as soon as possible and, at such time, consider them for retention.”
Naval officers with pending exemption requests will not be discharged. However, if denied, they’ll have five days to start the vaccination process or face separation.
The Navy has issued seven permanent medical exemptions, 400 temporary medical exemptions, and 134 administrative exemptions, with 2,531 requests for religious exemptions and six still pending as of the beginning of the month.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated the COVID-19 vaccination in August, allowing each military branch to decide on implementation deadlines. Each branch set a deadline for both their active-duty and reserve forces — the Navy, Marines, and Air Force's deadlines were in November, while the Army's is on Wednesday — and implemented consequences for those who don't follow the order.
More than 90% of all active-duty service members have been fully vaccinated, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.
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The announcement came days after the Air Force announced that 27 out of the roughly 5,000 active-duty airmen and guardians who refused the vaccine were discharged for failure to obey a lawful order.
In total, there are roughly 40,000 active-duty service members who will be in violation of the vaccination order when the Army's deadline passes on Wednesday, according to the Washington Post. The number amounts to roughly 3% of the total active-duty force, which comprises approximately 1.3 million people in total.