The U.S. Army announced on July 21 that it has approved just 20 permanent religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, after receiving thousands of requests.
Out of the 8,000 applications for a permanent religious exemption, a total of 1,465 have been reviewed by the Army. Just 20 have been approved—an approval rate of about 1.37 percent.
All those who had their applications approved were in the active Army. None from the Army National Guard or Army Reserve have received an exemption.
That leaves 6,535 applications for a permanent religious exemption yet to be reviewed by the service.
Meanwhile, the Army has reviewed 1,045 permanent medical exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine, out of 1,100 requests. It has approved just 34 of the requests, which is an approval rate of about 3.25 percent.
"All Soldiers who refuse the order to be vaccinated without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to certain adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to continued service, and official reprimands.
"Soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption may also be subject to additional adverse administrative action, including separation."
Over 17,000 COVID-19 Vaccine RefusalsMore than 17,000 Army troops have refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine, data indicated. Most of the refusals come from the Army National Guard, where more than 10,700 soldiers have refused to be vaccinated.
Out of 1,425 active Army members who refused the COVID-19 vaccine, 1,379 have been separated; no troops in the Army National Guard or Army Reserve have been separated.
Since July 1, under orders of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, members of the Army National Guard or Army Reserve who have refused the vaccine and don't have a valid exemption "may not participate in federally funded drills, training, and other duty nor receive payment or retirement credit," the Army said.
Plaintiffs in the case had contended that the class action suit would include more than 12,000 airmen.
Army Facing Personnel ShortfallsThe figures point to a low rate of permanent COVID-19 vaccine exemption approvals from the Army at a time when the service branch forecasts it will have significantly fewer troops than originally planned by the end of fiscal 2023.
Army Gen. Joseph Martin, vice chief of staff for the Army, told a House military personnel panel on July 19 that the projection for the estimated total number of troops in the force by the end of the 2022 fiscal year, on Sept. 30, is 466,400—a drop of 6,600 from the original target of 473,000.
He also said that the estimated number of troops for the end of 2023 fiscal year is 445,000 to 452,000, which is 24,000 to 31,000 troops less than the original target of 476,000.
"Right now, what we’re experiencing—the 'why' of what we think is going on right now—is we’ve got unprecedented challenges with both a post-COVID-19 environment and labor market, but also private competition with private companies that have changed their incentives over time," Martin said.
He said the Army can manage to handle personnel shortfalls in the short term, but it could have an impact on readiness if it persists.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), a member of the House Judiciary and Armed Services committees, took to Twitter on July 19 to advocate for the end of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the military, noting the drastic projected reductions in strength for the Army.