COVID-19 vaccine mandate: Military begins disciplinary actions against refusers

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U.S. military services have begun to take disciplinary actions and discharges for troops who have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

As many as 20,000 unvaccinated forces of the approximately 1.3 million active-duty troops are at risk of being removed from service — though neither the Navy nor Marine Corps have released refusal totals and it remains unclear how many could end up being discharged.

The Navy has already fired one sailor from his command job for refusing to be tested while he pursued an exemption.

The Marine Corps said Thursday that it had discharged 103 Marines thus far, the Army has reprimanded more than 2,700 soldiers and will begin discharge proceedings in January and the Air Force announced earlier this week that 27 airmen had been discharged.

At least 30,000 service members are not yet vaccinated, but several thousand have been granted temporary or permanent medical or administrative exemptions and more than 12,000 have sought religious exemptions.

Soldiers file paperwork before being administered their COVID-19 vaccinations by Army Preventative Medical Services on Sept. 9, 2021 in Fort Knox, Kentucky. 
(Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

About 4,800 Army soldiers and Air Force airmen have refused the vaccine outright, without seeking an exemption.

The Pentagon made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all service members, including the National Guard and Reserve, and is also weighing making vaccine booster shots mandatory.

Members of the U.S. military are already required to get as many as 17 vaccines, depending on where they are deployed.

The Army said that 98% of its active-duty force had gotten at least one shot, the Marine Corps said 95% of its force had gotten at least one dose, 97.5% of the Air Force and Space Force have gotten at least one shot and 98.4% of the Navy is fully vaccinated. 

The administration’s mandate has met some outside resistance as well and Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Thursday that the state would not direct its National Guard members to comply with the order.

Acting on an order from Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, the state’s adjutant general sent a memo telling Guard troops that they aren’t required to get the shot and that “no negative administrative or legal action” would be taken against them if they refused. Stitt also asked Austin to consider suspending the mandate for members in the state.

Additionally, Republican governors from Wyoming, Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi and Nebraska have sent a letter to the Pentagon asking the Department of Defense to remove its mandate on Guard members.

Austin said in November that National Guard members who refuse COVID-19 vaccination will be barred from federally funded drills and training required to maintain their Guard status.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 72% of the U.S. population age 18 or older has gotten at least one shot.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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