NATIONAL NEWS

Across services, troops face discipline for refusing vaccine

Dec 16, 2021, 4:04 PM
ARLINGTON, VA - DECEMBER 09: Director of the Defense Health Agency Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place speak...
ARLINGTON, VA - DECEMBER 09: Director of the Defense Health Agency Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place speaks to reporters during a press conference to discuss plans for COVID-19 vaccine distribution to members of the U.S. military, at the Pentagon on December 9, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia. Ten military officers assigned to Operation Warp Speed, led by the Department of Health and Human Services and the DOD, are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assist with allocation and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to members of the U.S. military. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — All of the U.S. military services have now begun disciplinary actions and discharges for troops who have refused to get the mandated coronavirus vaccine, officials said Thursday, with as many as 20,000 unvaccinated forces at risk of being removed from service.

On Thursday, the Marine Corps said it has discharged 103 Marines so far for refusing the vaccine, and the Army said it has reprimanded more than 2,700 soldiers and will begin discharge proceedings in January. The Air Force said earlier this week that 27 airmen had been discharged for refusing the vaccine order. And the Navy laid out its new discipline procedure this week and has already fired one sailor from his command job for refusing to be tested while he pursues an exemption.

Military leaders have warned for months that troops would face consequences if they did not follow what is considered to be a lawful order to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But only in the last week or so have they publicly begun following through on those threats.

It’s not clear how many could end up being discharged. But according to the services, at least 30,000 service members are not yet vaccinated, but several thousand of those have gotten temporary or permanent medical or administrative exemptions approved. Of the remaining — which is likely 20,000 or more — thousands are working their way through the exemptions process or have flatly refused. That’s about 1.5% of the roughly 1.3 million active-duty troops.

The figures reflect a calculated risk — that the number of troops who would be forced from service for refusing the vaccine posed less of a threat to military readiness than the prospect of the virus running rampant among unvaccinated troops.

More than 12,000 have sought religious exemptions. And about 4,800 Army soldiers and Air Force airmen have flatly refused the vaccine, without seeking an exemption. The Navy and Marine Corps have not released their refusal totals.

Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s main concern is getting as many service members vaccinated as possible.

“What he would tell these individuals if he had the chance to speak to them directly is to get the vaccine, if they are medically eligible,” said Kirby. “Get the vaccine because it’s the best way to protect themselves and their units. That’s the readiness concern — getting the vaccination rate as close to 100% as possible.”

His comments came as the Army became the last military service to reach the deadline for requiring active-duty troops to get vaccines. On Thursday, the Army said 98% of its active-duty force had gotten at least one shot, but that more than 3,800 soldiers flatly refused and could start being removed from the military next month.

The Marine Corps said 95% of its force has gotten at least one dose as of Thursday. About 97.5% of the Air Force and Space Force have gotten at least one shot, and a bit more than 1,000 have flatly refused. And 98.4% of the Navy is fully vaccinated. The Navy does not release totals of those with one dose.

Asked about the impact on military readiness if service members continue to refuse the shots and are discharged from the service, Kirby said troops still have time to do the right thing.

“We obviously hope that they will,” he said. “But if they don’t, it is a lawful order and it has to be obeyed because it is a valid medical requirement.”

While each service has developed its own process, all are following existing rules for when a service member disobeys a lawful order. Getting thrown out of the military for refusing a vaccine has been done very rarely. But service members are routinely discharged for disobeying orders — often getting an honorable discharge or general discharge with honorable conditions.

According to the data released Thursday, the Army, the largest military service, reported the fewest service members seeking religious exemptions — a bit more than 1,700 soldiers — compared with the three smaller services. In comparison, more than 4,700 in the Air Force, 3,100 in the Marine Corps, and 2,700 in the Navy sought religious exemptions, according to data released by the services in the past week. None has yet been approved.

The Pentagon this year made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all service members, including the National Guard and Reserve. Austin has said repeatedly that getting the vaccine is critical to maintaining a healthy, ready force that can be prepared to defend the nation. The Pentagon is also weighing making the vaccine booster shots mandatory for service members.

The Army’s 478,000 active-duty soldiers had until Wednesday to get the shots. The Air Force required vaccines for the active duty by Nov. 2, while members of the Navy and the Marine Corps had until Nov. 28 to get the shots and their Reserve members have until Dec. 28. Air Force Guard and Reserves had until Dec. 2, and the Army Guard and Reserve soldiers have until next June.

“Vaccinating our soldiers against COVID-19 is first and foremost about Army readiness,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in a statement. “To those who continue to refuse the vaccine and are not pending a final decision on a medical or administrative exemption, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine. If not, we will begin involuntary separation proceedings.”

In addition to the more than 2,700 Army soldiers who received written reprimands for refusing the shot, six were fired from leadership positions. Students at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who refuse the vaccine and do not get an approved exemption will not be commissioned as officers.

The Army said more than 6,200 soldiers are seeking a temporary or permanent exemption, including the 1,746 religious requests. Nearly 3,900 have received temporary medical or administrative exemptions and four got a permanent medical exemption.

Temporary medical exemptions can include pregnancy or other reasons, and administrative can include those who are retiring or are in remote locations with no available vaccines.

Across the military, the vaccine reaction has mirrored that of society, with thousands reluctant to get shots. But overall the percentage of troops — particularly active duty members — who quickly were vaccinated exceeds nationwide numbers. 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.

Members of the U.S. military are already required to get as many as 17 vaccines, depending on where they are deployed, including for smallpox, hepatitis, polio and the flu.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

Subway Sandwich...
Jordan Valinsky, CNN Business

Subway is redesigning its menu

Subway is launching a new menu, and it's the most extensive makeover in the company's nearly 60-year history.
11 hours ago
Actress Amber Heard (R) departs the Fairfax County Courthouse on June 1, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia....
DENISE LAVOIE, AP Legal Affairs Writer

Heard seeks to throw out verdict in Depp defamation trial

Amber Heard’s lawyers have asked a judge to throw out the $10.35 million verdict against her in the defamation case filed by ex-husband Johnny Depp.
11 hours ago
FILE PHOTO...
Mark Morales, Liam Reilly and Amanda Jackson, CNN

2 law enforcement officers shot during a July Fourth festival in Philadelphia, source says

Two police officers were shot during a July Fourth celebration in Philadelphia, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the situation told CNN.
1 day ago
Robert "Bobby" E. Crimo III (Credit: Highland Park Police Department)...
Eric Levenson, Adrienne Broaddus, Shawn Nottingham and Brynn Gingras, CNN

Police have arrested a ‘person of interest’ after a mass shooting at July 4th parade in Highland Park, Illinois

Highland Park Police identified 22-year-old Robert E. Crimo III as a person of interest in connection with the Independence Day Chicago shooting.
1 day ago
First responders work the scene of a shooting at a Fourth of July parade on July 4, 2022 in Highlan...
MICHAEL TARM, KATHLEEN FOODY and ROGER SCHNEIDER, Associated Press

6 dead, 24 wounded in shooting at Chicago-area July 4 parade

Police say at least five people are dead and 19 have been taken to hospitals after a shooting at a July Fourth parade in a Chicago suburb.
1 day ago
Steve Carell and the Minions visit the Empire State Building on June 28, 2022 in New York City. (Ph...
Lindsey Bahr, AP Film Writer

‘Minions’ set box office on fire with $108.5 million debut

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” brought in an estimated $108.5 million in ticket sales from 4,391 screens in North America, Universal Pictures said Sunday.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Across services, troops face discipline for refusing vaccine