In August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin released a memo stating a mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 was necessary to keep “a healthy and ready force.” The Pfizer-BioNTech version of the COVID-19 vaccination was officially approved by the FDA, while it was previously under emergency-use authorization. With this change to official approval, the Department of Defense moved toward requiring vaccination. The Moderna and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccinations are still under emergency-use authorization and are therefore not included.
There is a long history of required vaccinations within the military. Vaccinations for Small Pox and Anthrax are required for deployment and readiness. According to AP News, the Navy and the Marine Corps stated they had zero religious exemption requests for other vaccines in recent years while the Air Force reported there were a few, and the Army did not have any data to share. When the COVID-19 vaccination approval was first announced, the vaccination was offered to military members, but not initially required.
On August 31, Vice Admiral W. R Merz, the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Plans and Strategy released NAVADMIN 190/21 which mandated that all Navy service members must be vaccinated for the COVID-19 vaccination. All Navy personnel must be vaccinated by November 28th, 2021 and reservists must be vaccinated by December 28, 2021. A message from Marine Corps Commandant General Berger stated that “All non-exempt active component personnel will achieve full vaccination no later than 90 days from the date of ALNAV 062/21, and all non-exempt reserve component personnel will achieve full vaccination no later than 120 days from the date. Vaccination could occur on installation or off, proof just needs to be provided to the active or reserve command for appropriate documentation. Exemptions for medical or administrative reasons can be requested through the Navy personnel or Marines command. Among the Marine Corps, a permanent medical exemption can be approved by the first O-5 or O-6 command surgeon in the member’s chain of command after the recommendation by a licensed healthcare provider working for the Department of Defense. Anyone who is not exempt who refuses the vaccination by the deadline will face adverse administrative action.
The Army released its plan for implementing the mandatory vaccination on September 14, 2021, stating that all active-duty units are expected to be vaccinated by December 15, 2021, and Reserve and National Guard units are expected to be vaccinated by June 30, 2022. Furthermore, it stated that soldiers who refused the vaccine would be counseled through the chain of command and medical providers and that failure to comply could lead to administrative or non-judicial punishment. Soldiers would have the ability to request an exemption through medical, religious or administrative reasons as outlined by Army Regulation (AR) 600-20 and AR 40-562. While pending a request, no punitive actions would be given.
The Air Force released their COVID-19 implementation plan on September 03, 2021. It stated that all active-duty service members without an exemption are required to be fully vaccinated by November 2nd and Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel are required to be fully vaccinated by December 2nd, 2021. Service members can apply for medical or administrative exemption through AFI 48-119_IP and for religious accommodation through DAFI 52-201. Any refusal of the vaccination could lead to punitive actions.
New joins or recruits are required to have vaccination as well. The Navy stated that “new accessions will be fully vaccinated as soon as practicable following service entry” per a Navy message. The Marine Corps stated that “Marines in recruit training will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.”
All across the board – every service member is required to get the COVID-19 vaccination. Even if the service member had a COVID-19 infection previously, vaccination is required. Any refusal of the vaccination without an exemption is punishable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Per a Pentagon briefing on August 25th, the current percent of service members who were fully vaccinated for each service was the following: Navy and Marine Corps: 73%, Air Force and Space Force 57%, Army: 40%.