Navy Ready Reserve still has some vaccine holdouts as omicron rages

The Navy’s deadline for its reserve troops to be fully vaccinated passed in the waning days of 2021. Despite warnings of reprimands, punishments and separations, about 3,000 service members in the Navy’s Ready Reserve are not in compliance with the Defense Department’s order to be fully inoculated against COVID-19.

The Ready Reserve’s official deadline was on Dec. 28, 2021. As of Dec. 29,  2021, the Navy granted nine temporary medical exemptions, 44 administrative exemptions and zero religious accommodations. About 280 Ready Reserve service members requested religious accommodations.

Those religious accommodations are very unlikely to be granted. All of the military services have denied thousands of religious requests. Not one request has been accepted to date.

The Ready Reserve totals just over 59,000 personnel.

The active-duty Navy still has about 5,000 sailors holding out from getting the vaccine and nearly 2,900 requests for religious accommodations. The deadline for active-duty sailors to get vaccinated was Nov. 28 of last year, and about 97% hit that mark in the required time.

The Navy said on Dec. 15, 2021, that it would begin to separate sailors who were not in compliance, but none have been let go at this point.

“In order to ensure a fully vaccinated force, it is Navy policy to separate all Navy service members who refuse the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccination,” Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, the chief of naval personnel, wrote in a message. “The least favorable characterization of service for Navy service members refusing the vaccine, without extenuating circumstances, will be GENERAL (under honorable conditions).”

The Marine Corps is already taking action. A total of 206 Marines have lost their job to date for refusing to get the vaccine. The Marine Corps had the distinction of being the least vaccinated service when its deadline hit. About 95% of Marines received at least one dose of the vaccine. The Marine Corps Reserve’s vaccination numbers are in the mid-80% range.

As of Dec. 22 of last year, more than 80,000 Marines and sailors contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Coast Guard ended the year with 95.3% of its active duty force. That service required its service members to get the shots by Nov. 22, 2021. The Coast Guard still has not taken any action to separate its employees for not getting vaccinated.

The deadlines come as the Defense Department is now weighing the option of requiring booster shots for service members, as the omicron variant rips through the United States.

“There are active discussions here in the department at the policy level about booster shots and whether or not to make those mandatory,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in December. “There have been no final decisions made about that. Rest assured that should there be an addition to that in terms of the mandatory vaccine requirement, we will clearly communicate that and be transparent about it. But there are discussions in the department about the efficacy of enacting a booster mandatory policy, as well.”

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