The U.S. Navy announced that it discharged 20 sailors for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Wednesday news release, while the Marine Corps confirmed that 251 Marines have been discharged.
The service said that as of Jan. 5, there have been 20 “entry level separations” due to COVID-19 vaccine refusals, which is the first round of discharges. It “reflects service members who, since the time of the vaccine mandate, were separated during initial training periods within their first 180 days of active duty,” according to the Navy’s update.
The Marine Corps on Thursday also confirmed that 251 Marines have been discharged for refusing to take the vaccine to date.
“To date, there have been 3,260 requests for religious accommodation concerning the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. At this time, 3,115 have been processed and zero requests have been approved,” the Marines said.
The Navy, meanwhile, said that “there have been 3,009 active duty requests for a religious accommodation from immunization for the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Ninety-four percent of the Marines are fully vaccinated and an additional 2 percent partially vaccinated, the Marines said in data released this week. For the Navy, some 5,268 active personnel and 2,980 Ready Reserve service members are not unvaccinated.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum in August stipulating that all military members receive a vaccine, leading all branches of the military to set deadlines for troops to become fully vaccinated.
Several days ago, a federal judge ruled in favor of about three-dozen Navy SEALs who filed suit against the Pentagon over the vaccine mandate. They argued that their religious beliefs prevent them from getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and they were not legitimately considered before the Navy rejected their requests.
“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush nominee, wrote in an order on Monday. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.”
First Liberty Institute’s Mike Berry, whose group filed the lawsuit on the SEALs’ behalf, said the mandate forces service members to choose between their religious beliefs and their profession.
“Punishing SEALs for simply asking for a religious accommodation is purely vindictive and punitive. We’re pleased that the court has acted to protect our brave warriors before more damage is done to our national security,” he said in a statement.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby in December told reporters that there are conversations occurring in the Pentagon on whether a booster shot should be mandated for all service members. No public announcement has been made yet.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.