Navy removes first group of sailors to refuse COVID-19 vaccine

The Navy has discharged a group of 20 sailors who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the first to be removed following the service’s Nov. 28 deadline for sailors to get the shots. 

All 20 had recently enlisted and were booted as part of “Entry Level Separations,” removals that take place “during initial training periods within their first 180 days of active duty,” according to a Navy statement released Wednesday.   

“There have been no additional active duty service member separations up to this point,” the service added.   

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The Navy last month announced that it had begun the process to discharge sailors who refuse to comply with the branch’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, with most such service members to be out by June 1.  

That follows the Pentagon’s late August announcement that the inoculation would be mandatory, with the individual military branches to set their own deadlines.  

But the process for further separations may be complicated by a Texas federal judge this week blocking the Pentagon from taking “any adverse action” against a group of 35 Navy Special Warfare service members who have refused to get vaccinated for religious reasons. 

The Pentagon is studying the decision.  

There are 5,268 sailors that remain unvaccinated, 3,009 of whom have put in a request for religious accommodation.   

As no military service has yet to grant a religious accommodation request for the shot, those who seek that exemption are not likely to find respite from removal. 

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The Navy has, however, given eight permanent medical exemptions, 242 temporary medical exemptions and 74 administrative exemptions to active-duty sailors.  

Service members who are still waiting for their vaccine exemption requests to be processed will not be immediately discharged, and the Navy is still allowing anti-vaccine personnel to change their minds and get the shots before being let go. 

The Marine Corps, meanwhile, has discharged 251 Marines since December.