Army Has Over 3,800 Refuse to Get COVID Vaccine, Could Be Removed From Military Next Month

More than 3,800 members of the Army have refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine by this week's deadline, setting them up for a potential ouster from the military beginning in January.

Six soldiers resisting the mandate were fired from leadership roles and more than 2,700 others have already been issued written reprimands, according to Army data.

While thousands have refused vaccination, the vast majority of the Army's more than 478,000 active-duty members have complied. Officials said that 97.9 percent were at least partially vaccinated by this week, the second-highest rate of the different services, behind the Navy's more than 98 percent who have received at least one shot.

The Air Force's 97.5 percent and the Marine Corps' 95 percent fell slightly lower than the rates from the Army and Navy.

The Army, the largest U.S. military service, also reported the lowest number of members requesting religious exemptions. While 1,700 Army soldiers applied for exemptions, about 4,700 in the Air Force, 3,000 in the Marine Corps and 2,700 in the Navy made the requests, according to recent data from the services. No religious exemptions have been authorized yet.

For Army members who have not yet complied with the requirement, they have a couple of weeks to consider switching course before the service begins the process of discharging those who continue to resist. West Point students who refuse vaccination or don't obtain an exemption also risk not being commissioned as officers.

Army Vaccine Mandate
The Army says 98 percent of its active-duty force had gotten at least one dose of the mandatory coronavirus vaccine as of this week’s deadline for the shots. Staff Sgt. Travis Snyder, left, receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine given at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, Dec. 16, 2020, south of Seattle. Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

The Pentagon announced earlier this year that the COVID-19 vaccine was mandatory for all service members, including the National Guard and Reserve. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said repeatedly that getting the vaccine is critical to maintaining a healthy, ready force that can be prepared to defend the nation. The Pentagon is also weighing making the vaccine booster shots mandatory for service members.

The other services had earlier deadlines. The Air Force required vaccines for the active duty by Nov. 2, while members of the Navy and the Marine Corps had until Nov. 28 to get the shots and their Reserve members have until Dec. 28. Air Force Guard and Reserves had until Dec. 2, and the Army Guard and Reserve soldiers have until next June.

The Air Force this week said it has already discharged 27 airmen for refusing to obey a lawful order and get the COVID-19 vaccine, making them what officials believe are the first service members to be removed for disobeying the shot mandate.

The airmen were formally discharged for failure to obey an order. It is possible that some had other infractions on their records, but all had the vaccine refusal as one of the elements of their discharge.

Overall, the Army said that more than 6,200 soldiers are seeking some type of temporary or permanent exemption, including 641 medical requests and the 1,746 religious requests.

Of those 6,200 requests, nearly 3,900 have received an approved temporary exemption. Four got a permanent medical exemption. Temporary exemptions can be for a variety of reasons ranging from medical, such as pregnancy, to administrative, such as someone who is retiring or is in a remote location where there are no readily available vaccines.

Across the military, the vaccine reaction has mirrored that of society as a whole, with thousands of members seeking exemptions or refusing the shots. But overall the percentage of troops—particularly active duty members—who quickly got the shots exceeds the nationwide numbers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 72 percent of the U.S. population age 18 or older has gotten at least one shot.

Members of the U.S. military are already required to get as many as 17 vaccines, depending on where they are deployed. The requirements — which include shots for smallpox, hepatitis, polio and the flu — also provide for a number of temporary and permanent exemptions for either medical or administrative reasons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

COVID Vaccine
More than 3,800 members of the Army have refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine by this week’s deadline, setting them up for a potential ouster from the military beginning in January. Above, a healthcare worker prepares a syringe with a vial of the J&J COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination site at Grand Central Terminal train station on May 12, 202 in New York City. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images