Members of the Navy had until Nov. 28, 2021, to be fully vaccinated against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, while Ready Reserve Navy service members had until Dec. 28, 2021, after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum in August stipulating that all military members get the shots.
Service members are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after getting two shots of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Booster shots are still under evaluation, officials said.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Navy said there have been a total of 45 “separations,” a general term used to describe a sailor leaving his or her position, either voluntarily or involuntarily, for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine.
“There have been 23 Active Component and zero Reserve Component Sailors separated, all with an honorable characterization of service,” the Navy said. “There have been 22 Entry Level Separations (ELS),” which is the first round of discharges.
As of Jan. 26, 5,035 active component and 2,960 Ready Reserve service members within the Navy are yet to be vaccinated.
A total of 3,258 active-duty members have requested religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate, none of which have been granted so far, according to the Navy.
The service has granted 10 permanent medical exemptions, 259 temporary medical exemptions, 59 administrative exemptions to active-duty sailors, seven temporary medical exemptions, and 24 administrative exemptions to reservists, as of Jan. 26, 2022.
In November, Navy officials said 95 percent of the active-duty navy force had been fully vaccinated and over 99 percent had received at least one shot of the vaccination, while warning that members who refuse to get vaccinated risk being discharged, meaning they could lose some of their veteran benefits.
“In order to ensure a fully vaccinated force, it is U.S. Navy policy to separate all Navy service members who refuse the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccination,” Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, Jr., the chief of naval personnel wrote, in the message. “The least favorable characterization of service for Navy service members refusing the vaccine, without extenuating circumstances, will be GENERAL (under honorable conditions).”
Sailors who were denied a medical or religious exemption for any reason were informed that they would need to start vaccination within five days of receiving the disapproval or risk being discharged.
“Decisions on whether to suspend or go ahead with separation after that deadline will be made by the Navy’s Consolidated Disposition Authority (CCDA),” officials said.
While the Biden administration has been pushing to increase vaccination rates among Americans, the president’s vaccine mandates have faced fierce criticism and have been challenged in the Supreme court.
Following the Navy’s announcement regarding discharges on Wednesday, Sen. Jim Inhofe, (R-Okla) said, “I’ve long had concerns that @DeptofDefense didn’t fully understand the costs & effects of its vaccine mandate.”
“These early indications show millions of taxpayer $ will be spent discharging unvaccinated troops & recruiting replacements because the Biden admin didn’t have a plan,” he wrote on Twitter.
But Vice Adm. Bill Merz, deputy chief of naval operations for Operations, Plans, and Strategy, touted the vaccine mandates for helping the force fend off severe COVID-19 cases. He said that the vaccine mandate had not had significant financial implications on the service.
“We have not had to medevac a single sailor due to COVID-19,” he told Military.com. “When you weigh [the cost of retraining a new sailor] with the operational cost of having to tie up a ship due to, you know, medevac, or whatever, it dwarfs it,” he said.
“We have become very consistent at sea again, and I would tell you, if I had to put a dollar value on it, it’s probably lower than it was a year ago because of the ability to be able to manage [COVID-19] at sea [and] return to normal operations.”