Across services, troops face discipline for refusing vaccine

WASHINGTON (AP), -- The U.S. military has begun disciplinary actions against troops who refuse to receive the coronavirus vaccine. Officials said that as many as 20,000 troops could be removed from service if they don't get it.

Across services, troops face discipline for refusing vaccine

The Marine Corps announced that it had discharged 103 Marines for refusing to receive the vaccine. Meanwhile, the Army stated it had reprimanded over 2,700 soldiers and would begin discharge proceedings in January. The Air Force announced earlier this week that 27 Airmen were discharged due to refusing to comply with the vaccine order. The Navy also announced its new discipline procedures this week and fired one sailor for refusing to undergo a test while he sought an exemption.

For months, military leaders warned that their troops could face serious consequences if they didn't follow the lawful order to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination. They have only started to publicly follow through on these threats in the past week.

It is not known how many might be discharged. According to the services, approximately 30,000 service personnel are still not vaccinated. However, several thousand have been granted temporary or permanent administrative or medical exemptions. The remaining, which could be 20,000 or more, are either working through the exemptions process or refusing to vaccinate. This is about 1.5% of the approximately 1.3 million active-duty troops.

These figures are a calculated risk. They reflect the fact that troops would be less likely to refuse the vaccine than troops who were exposed to the virus.

More than 12,000 people have applied for religious exemptions. About 4,800 Air Force soldiers and Air Force airmen also refused the vaccine without asking for an exemption. The Navy and Marine Corps has not yet released their refusal totals.

John Kirby, Pentagon chief spokesperson, stated Thursday that Lloyd Austin, Defense Secretary of Defense, is primarily concerned with getting as many military personnel vaccinated as possible.

Kirby stated that he would tell the individuals to get the vaccine if he could speak with them. It's the best way for them to protect their units and themselves. This is the readiness concern - getting the vaccination rate as close as possible to 100%.

He made these comments as the Army was the last military service that had reached the deadline to require active duty troops to receive vaccines. The Army claimed that 98% of its active-duty force had received at least one shot on Thursday. However, more than 3,800 soldiers refused to receive the vaccines and could be removed from the military in the next month.

According to the Marine Corps, 95% of its force had received at least one dose by Thursday. Nearly 97.5% of Air Force and Space Force personnel have received at least one dose, while a little more than 1,000 people have refused to receive it. The Navy has 98.4% coverage. The Navy doesn't release totals of the same dose.

Kirby responded to questions about the effect on military readiness if service personnel refuse to take the shots and are dismissed from service.

He said, "We hope they will." "But if they don’t, it is still a lawful order that must be followed because it is valid medical necessity."

Each service has its own process but all follow the same rules when a servicemember violates a lawful order. Rarely have you been expelled from the military for refusing to take a vaccine. However, disobedient service members are often discharged -- sometimes receiving an honorable discharge or general discharge under honorable conditions.

The Army, which is the largest military service, had the lowest number of religious exemptions requests, at just over 1,700 soldiers, according to data released Thursday. This was in contrast with the three smaller services. According to the latest data from the services, over 4,700 people in the Air Force, 3,100 Marine Corps, and 2,700 in Navy requested religious exemptions. None have been approved yet.

This year, the Pentagon made COVID-19 mandatory for all military personnel, including the National Guard and Reserve. Austin repeatedly stated that the COVID-19 vaccine is essential for maintaining a healthy, ready force that can defend the country. The Pentagon is considering making vaccine booster shots compulsory for military personnel.

The shots were due Wednesday for Army active duty soldiers, who had to be present by Wednesday. The vaccines were required for active duty in the Air Force by Nov. 2. Members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Reserve had to have their shots by Nov. 28. The Air Force Guard and Reserves had to get vaccines by Nov. 2, while the Navy and Marine Corps had to have them by Nov. 28. Reserve members and Army Guard soldiers have until June next year.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth stated in a statement that "vaccinating our soldiers against COVID-19 first and foremost concerns Army readiness." "Those who refuse to receive the vaccine, and are not waiting for a final decision on an administrative or medical exemption, I urge you to get it. If you refuse, we will start involuntary separation proceedings."

Six were also fired from leadership positions after they refused to give the shot to more than 2,700 Army soldiers. Students at West Point's U.S. Military Academy will not be allowed to become officers if they refuse the vaccine or do not receive an approved exemption.

According to the Army, more than 6,200 soldiers have applied for a temporary or permanent exemption. This includes 1,746 religious requests. Nearly 3900 soldiers have been granted temporary or administrative exemptions, while four received a permanent medical exemption.

Temporary medical exemptions may be granted for pregnancy, other reasons, or administrative. This can also apply to those who are retired or in remote areas without access to vaccines.

The military's vaccine reaction is similar to that of the rest of society. Many are reluctant to get shot. However, the overall percentage of troops who were quickly vaccinated, especially active-duty soldiers, is higher than national figures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 72% of Americans aged 18 and older have received at least one shot.

The U.S. military requires that all members receive 17 vaccines depending on their location, which includes smallpox and hepatitis.

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