The Marine Corps Is Rapidly Forcing Out Vaccine Refusers, As Promised

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A U.S. Marine holds out a sticker after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination
A U.S. Marine holds out a sticker after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, on Camp Foster, Feb. 18, 2020. (Courtesy photo by Staff Sgt. Lucas Vega)

The Marine Corps has moved aggressively to discharge service members since its vaccine mandate deadline of Nov. 14, having reviewed most of the several thousand claims for religious exemptions and thus far granting none.

According to the Corps’ latest update, it has separated 206 Marines to date with the vaccine refusal discharge code.

The weekly updates from the branch show that the separations began with 103 Marines on the week of Dec. 16.

Conversely, the Air Force, whose vaccine deadline arrived on Nov. 2, announced it had only discharged 27 people for failing to get the shot that same week. Meanwhile, the Navy has not announced any discharges stemming from its vaccine mandate despite it sharing the same Nov. 14 deadline.

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The rapid pace also extends to the review of claims for religious exemption. The Marines say that they have now reviewed and adjudicated 3,080 of the 3,192 requests – more than 96%.

In contrast, the Air Force’s last update said it had 4,652 religious requests in progress while the Navy’s update said it received 2,844 but didn’t specify how many have already been ruled on.

Requests for exemption are decided on by the Manpower and Reserve Affairs command headed by Lt. Gen. David Ottignon - a deputy commandant - and not a Marines’ direct commander.

No branch of the military has yet to approve a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine, and spokespeople for the Navy and Marine Corps have previously told Military.com that neither branch has granted such an exemption for any vaccine in at least seven years.

The Marine’s vaccination rates have been notably lower than the rest of the branches. While the final figures for fully vaccinated service members at the time of their respective deadlines for the Navy, Army, and Air Force were around 96%, the Marine Corps reported a rate of 92%.

The removal of service members comes at a time when there has been growing conversation in the military about the danger the new Omicron variant poses to the armed forces and the need for booster shots.

The Pentagon announced this week that it is recommending the additional vaccine shot to everyone eligible at the Department of Defense. Troops, civilians and dependents who have completed an initial vaccination against COVID-19 -- either the one shot or two-shot series -- are eligible for a booster shot after six months.

On Dec. 20, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that nearly 100,000 active-duty service members had already received boosters.

That announcement came amid reports that a Navy ship was fighting an outbreak of COVID-19. Part of the Navy’s response has been to recommend and offer the crew booster shots.

The Navy has not said whether the outbreak on the Milwaukee is from the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus, but Kirby has said that "given its rapid spread in the United States, we would expect Omicron cases will continue to rise within DoD in the near term."

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: 'This Is Not a Repeat of the Roosevelt' - Navy's Latest COVID Outbreak May Show Value of Vaccines

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