Navy releases guidance to discharge sailors refusing COVID-19 vaccine

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All active-duty sailors who refuse to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 28 will face discharge, according to new Navy guidance released Thursday.

The guidance, which also sets a deadline for all Navy Reserve sailors to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 28, outlines the consequences for those who fail to comply. 

“Sailors must be prepared to execute their mission at all times, in places through out the world, including where vaccination rates are low and disease transmission is high,” according to the notice. “Immunizations are of paramount  importance to protecting the health of the force and the warfighting readiness of the Fleet.”

To meet the deadlines, active-duty sailors must receive their final dose of the vaccine by Nov. 14 while those in the Navy Reserve need their last shot by Dec. 14, giving individuals a two-week period for the dose to take full effect.

Navy personnel are allowed to request a vaccine exemption for medical or religious reasons.

The guidance follows Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s order in late August for all service members and military personnel to “immediately begin” getting the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Currently, about 94 percent of active-duty sailors and 89 percent of the total force are fully immunized against coronavirus, while 94 percent of the total force have received at least one shot, according to Navy figures released Wednesday. 

To separate sailors who refuse to comply with the mandatory policy, the Navy has formed the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority (CCDA) to “ensure a fair and consistent process” in deciding how to handle a possible discharge. 

Naval Personnel head Vice Adm. John Nowell and Chief of Naval Reserve Vice Adm. John Mustin will oversee the new authority. 

With the new guidelines in place, administrative actions can begin immediately against those who refuse the vaccine who do not have a pending or approved exemption request.

Those who refuse the vaccine will not be allowed to be promoted, advance, reenlist, or execute orders, with the exception of separation orders, until the CCDA has completed disposition of their case, the guidance notes.

Commanding officers have also been tasked with tracking sailors who deny the vaccine. 

Those separated for vaccine refusal could receive as low as a general discharge under honorable conditions, which could result in the loss of some veterans’ benefits.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, 14 active-duty sailors have died from the illness as have dozens more civilians and contractors.

“Tragically, there have been 164 deaths within the Navy family due to COVID-19, far exceeding the combined total of all other health or mishap related injuries and deaths over the same time period,” Nowell wrote.  

Of those, he noted, 144 were not immunized. The vaccination status of the remaining 20 is undetermined.  

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