2 Battalion Commanders Fired for Refusing COVID-19 Vaccine, But 96% of Active Army Meet Deadline

U.S. Army soldiers draw and prepare vaccines
U.S. Army soldiers draw and prepare vaccines at the Atlanta Community Vaccination Center in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, March 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Robert P Wormley III)

More than 96% of the Army's 478,000 active-duty soldiers met the service's requirement for being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 15, with an additional 2% receiving one dose -- leaving slightly more than 10,000 personnel needing a waiver or facing punitive action for refusing the vaccine.

Already, according to an Army announcement Thursday, two battalion commanders and four others have been relieved from leadership positions, while 2,767 soldiers have received written reprimands from general officers for refusing the order.

When the service set its deadline for active-duty personnel in mid-September, roughly 80% of the active-duty force had already gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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The Army set a longer deadline than the other military branches to give commanders in the largest service time to counsel members and allow for soldiers to get vaccinated.

But soldiers also were supposed to be fully vaccinated -- meaning they needed to have their second dose or receive the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine, by Dec. 1 to meet the requirements of the order.

Still, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth thanked those who helped the Army drive toward its deadline, described as a "goal."

"Thank you to the medical staff who have been supporting the pandemic response at home and to the vaccinated soldiers who put the health and welfare of their fellow soldiers and families first," Wormuth said.

She added a stern warning for those who continue to refuse. According to the service, this includes 3,864 soldiers who have outright refused, or less than 1% of the force.

"To those who continue to refuse the vaccine and are not pending a final decision on a medical or administrative exemption, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine. If not, we will begin involuntary separation proceedings," Wormuth said.

The Army and its components have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with roughly 35% of all U.S. military cases and 48 of the 80 deaths among U.S. troops.

The most recent was Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Ray Vucinaj, 50, with the 5032nd U.S. Army Reserve School in Flint, Michigan. He died Dec. 11.

Army officials said that, across the components, roughly 83% of soldiers have received at least one dose or are completely vaccinated, but the data is less concrete because members of the Reserve and National Guard may have received their vaccines from civilian medical providers.

More than 6,250 soldiers have a temporary medical or administrative exemption, including those who have asked to be waived for the requirement for medical or religious reasons.

The service has received 1,746 requests for a religious exemption. To date, it has approved none. It has denied 85 and is processing the remainder; two of the denials are in the appeals process.

It also has received 621 requests for permanent medical exemptions, has approved four and denied 516. The remainder are under review.

The Air Force said Monday that it has dismissed 27 airmen for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the first active-duty service members to be ousted for disobeying the order.

The service previously dismissed 40 recruits from training after they refused the vaccine. The basic military and technical trainees were discharged under entry-level separation mechanisms.

As of Tuesday, 97.5% of active-duty Air Force and Space Force personnel had received at least one dose, and 1,039 members have refused.

Roughly 1,100 have received a medical or administrative waiver. An additional 4,742 have requested a religious exemption; none has been approved.

The Navy has yet to publish its updates this week, but according to the latest figures from Dec. 9, roughly 1,65% of the Navy's active-duty force remains unvaccinated. The 5,731 sailors include 333 with medical exemptions and 2,705 who have asked for religious accommodations.

As of Dec. 16, 94% of the Marine Corps was fully vaccinated, with an additional 1% having received one dose.

The Marine Corps has approved 1,007 administrative exemptions for various reasons, which include Marines nearing the end of their service obligation.

The Corps has received 3,144 requests for religious accommodation and has processed 2,863. None has been approved.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Nearly 9,000 Marines Didn't Get Vaccinated By The Deadline. Many Risk Getting Kicked Out of the Corps.

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