A new recruit gets his temperature taken at Fort Sill, Okla., April 7, 2020.

A new recruit gets his temperature taken at Fort Sill, Okla., April 7, 2020. U.S. Army

Army Commanders Relieved Over Vaccine Refusal

Battalion COs among the six soldiers removed from their jobs as service deadline passes.

Just one day after its COVID-19 vaccination deadline, the Army has begun relieving soldiers who refused to get the vaccine. So far, six active-duty soldiers have been relieved, including two battalion commanders, Army officials said. Close to 3,000 more soldiers have received written reprimands.

The service’s Dec. 15 deadline to fully vaccinate its active-duty force against COVID-19 arrived later than the Air Force’s Nov. 2 date and the Navy’s Nov. 28 deadline. Still, the Army failed to achieve 100 percent vaccination. 

A total of 461,209 soldiers, or 96 percent of the Army’s active-duty force, have received two doses of the vaccine while another 7,250 have received at least one dose. “Thousands” of exemption requests still need to be processed, but the 3,864 who have flat out refused are facing quick consequences. 

The six active-duty soldiers already relieved are just the beginning. 

“Currently, soldiers who refuse the order to be vaccinated without an approved or pending exemption request may be subject to adverse administrative action,” the memo reads. “Beginning in January, Army commanders will initiate involuntary separation for the less than one percent of active component soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption.”

Troops’ service records are flagged the day they make their final vaccine refusal, a memo from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth released in mid-November said. Even before the involuntary separation process begins, that flag bars troops from promotion, reenlistment, enlistment bonuses, tuition assistance, or service-related schools. 

The number of refusals may increase over the coming months as religious exemptions are processed. The Army received 1,746 requests for religious exemption—roughly three times the number of medical exemption requests received—and has approved zero. So far, 85 of the religious exemption requests have been disapproved. The remaining 1,661 are still being processed. 

“Army officials review each request on an individual basis to determine whether an exemption is appropriate. Medical requests are reviewed primarily by healthcare providers, while religious accommodation requests include interviews with the Soldier’s chaplain, recommendations from the chain of command, as well as a public health and a legal review,” the memo says.

Four medical exemptions have been approved out of a total of 621 requests. Out of the remaining requests, 101 are currently being reviewed and 516 have been disapproved.

The Navy and Air Force also failed to meet their vaccine deadlines with 100 percent vaccination. While all three branches were within a few percent of success, the slow process time for exemption requests represented an obstacle. The Air Force faced nearly 5,000 requests for religious exemptions alone when its deadline came and went. The Navy was still reviewing 2,441 requests from Marines and 2,531 requests from sailors for religious exemption when its deadline passed. 

The Navy announced Dec. 15 that it would also start processing unvaccinated active-duty sailors for separation, and the Marine Corps has separated 103 Marines through the vaccine refusal discharge code. The Marine Corps did not provide information on rank or leadership position for those discharged.