The Pentagon hit a tipping point on Wednesday as the deadline for soldiers in the United States Army, the largest military service, passed to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Troops who refuse compulsory fire or are not in the process of receiving an accepted exemption will find themselves in administrative limbo until they exit the military.
The Army’s Dec. 15 deadline was the last for military services. Air Force personnel had until Nov. 2 to get vaccinated when the deadline for the Navy and Marine Corps was Nov. 28. members of the services had been expelled for not having been vaccinated.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the mass vaccination effort, but gave the services themselves the responsibility of implementing it – and determining possible penalties for resistance fighters.
Pentagon officials said the plan was successful. Nearly 90% of the total force – on active duty as well as part-time reservists – have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while just under 75% can be considered fully immunized, figures which compare favorably with the rates of the American population as a whole.
“The vast majority are doing the right thing and doing the right thing before the vaccine was even compulsory,” Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.
For months, the main military leaders alternated between pleading, cajoling and threatening force to get the shots fired. With thousands of military personnel still unvaccinated amid a record number of calls for medical or religious exemptions from new vaccines, services have put the carrot away and pulled out the stick.
The Air Force said its staff have until Nov. 2 to get vaccinated. On Monday, they confirmed that 27 staff members had been fired for refusing the order. They are believed to be the first servicemen to be demobilized under the new policy.
According to the Associated Press, none have requested an exemption, whether medical, administrative or religious.
“Service members separated due to COVID-19 vaccine refusal will not be eligible for involuntary severance pay and will be subject to reimbursement of any special pay or unearned incentives,” Air Force officials said in their policy COVID-19.
Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth said any soldier who refused the compulsory vaccination order would not be allowed to re-enlist, take training courses or be promoted – a process known as ” report ”.
“The soldier will remain flagged until he is fully vaccinated, receives an approved medical or administrative exemption, or is separated from the military,” she wrote in a memorandum outlining the service’s COVID-19 policy.
Seeking to provide perspective, Mr Kirby noted that the Air Force administratively laid off more than 1,800 people in 2021 for issues unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Administrative discharges are a common practice,” he said.
According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Defense, more than 561,000 soldiers – active and reservists – are fully vaccinated. Soldiers who refuse the compulsory vaccination order will be struck with a memorandum of reprimand unless they have been granted an exemption.
The decision to order mandatory COVID-19 booster injections is still under “active discussion” within the Defense Department, but Secretary Austin encourages anyone eligible to receive it, Kirby said.
“Science shows that it absolutely helps reduce the risk of contracting,” he said.
The Pentagon suffers a powerful retreat from Capitol Hill. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, the powerful senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the mandate “haphazardly implemented and politically motivated” in a dazzling Oct. 18 letter to Secretary Austin.
“Combined with the uncertainty and burden that the vaccination mandate places on industry, this administration will cause more damage to the security of the nation than any external threat,” Mr. Inhofe wrote. “The lack of strategic foresight in implementing the COVID vaccination mandate is inexcusable. “
Defense Ministry officials have long said the vaccine is essential to maintaining the health of the military and its ability to respond to any threat to national security.
Kansas Republican Senator Roger Marshall has said he supports the COVID-19 vaccine but also supports those who have “carefully weighed” their decision whether or not to receive the vaccines.
“These servicemen and women do not deserve a dishonorable discharge for choosing against the vaccine – a dishonorable discharge treats our heroes like criminals and our American heroes deserve better,” he said in a statement.
Senator Marshall, a former military doctor, said the final text of the upcoming Pentagon budget contains a provision that would provide “retroactive protection” if they received a discharge other than honorable for refusing to be vaccinated. against COVID-19.
State officials also entered the debate on the mandate of vaccines for military personnel. The Republican Governor of Oklahoma and the state attorney general have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the mandate of the state’s National Guard troops. Governor Kevin Stitt said Secretary Austin was overstepping his authority in ordering state forces.
This dispute will need to be resolved in court or by Congress, the Brigadier. General Thomas H. Mancino, adjutant general of Oklahoma, said in a message to the troops.
“Anyone who exercises personal responsibility and decides not to take the vaccine should realize that the potential for career-ending federal action, barring a favorable court ruling, legislative intervention, or a change in policy, is present, “wrote General Mancino.
Oklahoma’s top general said he was fully vaccinated and believed he was perfectly safe against COVID-19 based on the millions of doses that were administered.
“I also recognize the right of every soldier and aviator to choose for themselves. It is a right that you have regardless of the actions of the governor or of me on your behalf, ”wrote General Mancino.
For more information, visit the Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.