New Navy Guidance Will Discharge Sailors Refusing COVID-19 Vaccination Without Exemption
by Heather Mongilio, USNI News, October 14, 2021 (This story has been updated with additional information about the Navy vaccine mandate.)
All active-duty Navy personnel must be vaccinated by Nov. 28 or face separation, according to a Navy administrative message released Wednesday.
Any active-duty Navy service members who do not get fully vaccinated or do not have an approved or pending exemption will be processed for an honorable separation without involuntary separation, according to NAVADMIN 225/21, released by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Lescher and Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell.
Service members in the Ready Reserve Navy will need to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 28.
In order to meet the deadline, active duty members must receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, if receiving the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna version, by Nov. 14, according to a Thursday Navy news release. A person is not fully vaccinated until 14 days after receiving the second shot.
For members in the reserve, the deadline to receive the second shot is Dec. 14.
Those who are separated for refusing the vaccine will be discharged with no lower than a general discharge under honorable conditions, according to the Navy release.
Those refusing the vaccine cannot be promoted, advance, reenlist or execute orders outside of ones involving separation. Any officer who refuses to be vaccinated will have any promotions delayed.
Since the vaccination is mandatory, service members who refuse the vaccine can be temporarily reassigned depending on operational readiness or requirements of the mission, according to NAVADMIN 225/21.
Navy personnel can request an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Having COVID-19 in the past or having a positive serology test for the disease will not exempt a service member, the Navy said in an August administrative message.
“Sailors must be prepared to execute their mission at all times, in places throughout the world, including where vaccination rates are low and disease transmission is high,” according to the Navy news release issued today. “Immunizations are of paramount importance to protecting the health of the force and the warfighting readiness of the Fleet.”
As of Wednesday, 94 percent of active-duty sailors have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 99 percent having received the first dose, according to the Navy.
Of the total force, 89 percent is completely vaccinated, while 94 percent have received the first shot.
There have been a total of 83,648 COVID-19 cases within the Navy, including active-duty and civilians, according to the service. Of those cases, 164 resulted in deaths.
There have been 14 active-duty deaths out of 48,231 cases.
There have been more deaths due to COVID-19 than other health or mishap-related injuries and deaths over the same time period, according to NAVADMIN 225/21.
In 144 of the deaths, those who died were not vaccinated. Vaccination status is not known for the other 20.
“In order to maximize readiness, it is the policy goal of the U.S. Navy to achieve a fully vaccinated force against the persistent and lethal threat of COVID-19,” according to NAVADMIN 225/21.
The new guidance is not unexpected. A Navy administrative message from Aug. 31 mandated all active duty service members be fully vaccinated within 90 days of the message, which put the deadline at Nov. 28, USNI News previously reported.
Service members can receive a vaccine from a non-Department of Defense administrator as long as they provide documentation of the vaccine within the next duty day.
Although there are three versions of the COVID-19 vaccine — the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer versions and the one-shot Johnson and Johnson — only Pfizer has received full approval from the FDA.
Moderna has requested FDA licensure, according to an August release from the company.
At this time, the Navy can only mandate that service members and reservists receive the Pfizer vaccine, since it is the only one with FDA approval. The other vaccines are currently administered under an emergency use authorization.