Defense Department Grants First Religious Waivers for COVID Vaccine
Two Marines are the first successful applicants among the 18,500 U.S. troops who have sought exemption from the vaccination mandate by citing religious beliefs.
The Marine Corps is the first U.S. military branch to report the granting of a religious exemption to the mandate that troops be vaccinated for COVID-19. Two Marines have received exemptions, officials said Thursday.
In all, some 18,500 U.S. troops have requested such exemptions. The Air Force received the highest number of requests with 10,766, followed by the Marine Corps with 3,350, the Navy with 2,844, and the Army with 1,746. No other branch has reported an approved request, but have provided data on the number of disapproved accommodations.
Each branch has been handling requests for religious exemption in its own way, but the processes generally include multiple tiers of case-by-case consideration.
For example, all religious accommodations in the Marine Corps are reviewed by the Marine’s lieutenant colonel commander, colonel commander, and commanding general. Then, if cleared, it moves on to the adjudication authority: the Deputy Commandant, Manpower and Reserve Affairs. Within Manpower and Reserve Affairs, a three-person religious-accommodation board reviews each package and makes a recommendation to the deputy commandant. The deputy commandant then personally reviews the content of each package.
The Marine Corps did not say whether the two approved exemptions were for active-duty or reserve component Marines.
The process takes time. And even though each branch’s self-appointed deadline for 100% vaccination came and went long ago, requests for accommodation have prevented any branch from achieving that goal. Shortly before the holidays, the Air Force reported that it still had 8,636 of its 10,766 requests to work through.
“The Marine Corps recognizes COVID-19 as a readiness issue. The speed with which the disease transmits among individuals has increased risk to our Marines and the Marine Corps’ mission. We are confident the vaccine protects our Marines, our communities, and the nation,” an emailed Marine Corps memo with updated COVID-19 vaccination data reads.
The memo also includes that 88% of the Marines hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.