As Vaccine Deadlines Near, Navy and Marines Grant Few Exemptions

A U.S. Navy Corpsman draws a COVID-19 vaccine from a vial
A U.S. Navy Corpsman draws a COVID-19 vaccine from a vial during a SHOTEX at Camp Pendleton, California, March 11, 2021. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Abigail Paul)

With less than a month to go before the Navy's vaccination deadline, the service says it has granted only five exemptions to its COVID-19 mandate -- all for medical reasons.

Lt. Cmdr. Andrew DeGarmo, a spokesman for the Navy, confirmed Tuesday in a call with that the branch of more than 300,000 active-duty personnel has issued a handful of permanent medical exemptions.

So far, the service has not kicked anyone out over the vaccine mandate, DeGarmo confirmed.

Similarly, Marine spokesman Capt. Ryan Bruce told in an email Tuesday that there has not been "a court-martial stemming from refusal to receive vaccination against COVID-19." He did note, though, that Marine Corps headquarters "does not track disciplinary actions below court-martial."

The Marine Corps said it would release its total exemption figures after the deadline has passed.

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"Right now, [the effort is] really focused on trying to get the sailors vaccinated first and make sure everybody's taken care of," DeGarmo said.

Both branches have said active-duty sailors and Marines have until Nov. 28 to be fully vaccinated; reservists have until Dec. 28.

Although the exemption process has received significant attention as some service members publicly push for permission to sidestep the mandate, neither service thus far has supported religious exemptions to the vaccine.

DeGarmo said that the Navy has not approved any religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccinations to date, and has rejected "some" exemptions while others are under review. He noted that the service has not approved a religious exemption for any vaccine in at least seven years.

Bruce said that there is "no record of any religious accommodations for vaccination being granted by Headquarters Marine Corps in the past 10 years."

The two sea service branches have stressed that the process for such exemptions is on a case-by-case basis, and decisions are being made by senior leadership.

Capt. Richard Ryan, a chaplain who has been in the service since 2001 and oversees the Pacific Fleet, told reporters in August that the discussion around religious exemptions for vaccines is relatively new for him.

He explained that chaplains in individual commands will be charged with determining sailors' sincerity, but said that the deputy chief of naval operations for manpower, personnel, training and education, a three-star admiral, ultimately will decide who gets an exemption and who doesn't.

DeGarmo said that the case-by-case review has been time consuming but stressed that there isn't a "blanket 'no'" policy for requests in a call with on Oct. 29.

The Marine Corps has a similar approach. Its exemptions will be decided by the Manpower and Reserve Affairs department, headed by Lt. Gen. David Ottignon.

As of last week, the Navy said that 95% of active-duty sailors were fully immunized, while the Marine Corps reported 86% of active-duty Marines being vaccinated.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: Marine Corps Makes It Clear: Get The Vaccine or Get Out

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