Army the Only U.S. Military Branch That Hasn't Discharged Members Over COVID Vaccine

The Navy announced it had discharged its first active-duty sailors for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine, leaving the Army as the only U.S. military branch not to discharge anyone for that reason yet.

According to the Associated Press, the Navy said Tuesday it had discharged 23 members for refusing the shot. As of the past few weeks, the Marine Corps has discharged 334 and the Air Force has discharged 111.

The Pentagon issued a mandate last year requiring the U.S. Armed Forces to get the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Department of Defense, about 98 percent of active-duty forces are already vaccinated. A news release from the department stated that for all service members, including reserves and the National Guard, "the situation is clear — get the shots or face the consequences."

Under the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last month, military members who refuse the vaccine cannot be dishonorably discharged, Politico reported, adding the discharges can either be honorable or "general under honorable conditions."

Though the Army has not discharged anyone yet, CBS reported it had relieved six active-duty commanders, two of them battalion commanders, for refusing the vaccine. It also issued nearly 3,000 reprimands to soldiers for not getting the shot.

As of the end of December, 95 percent of active-duty Marines, 98 percent of Army members and 99 percent of the Navy reported getting at least the first vaccine dose, according to Politico. Also, 95 percent of airmen and guards said they were vaccinated.

While the military grants medical and religious exemptions to getting the vaccine, so far the Marine Corps is the only branch that has granted religious exemptions. CNN reported two Marines received the exemptions earlier this month.

According to the report, the Corps has received over 3,300 requests for religious exemptions so far and has already processed most of them. It did not specify why it granted these two specific exemptions.

As of the article's publishing on January 13, other military branches were also processing over 2,000 exemption requests each.

According to CBS, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby has said that the vaccine requirement does not include the booster, but that the Department of Defense has been discussing that possibility with the Omicron variant's prevalence across the country.

"It is a lawful order," Kirby said in the December release. "It is a valid military requirement to get the vaccine."

U.S. Army, COVID-19 vaccine, Florida
The U.S. Army is the only military branch to not discharge anyone for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine so far. Above, Army soldiers from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, prepare Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate people at the Miami Dade College North Campus on March 9, 2021 in North Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images