Active-duty sailors and Marines are required to get the COVID-19 vaccine within the next 90 days or face “punitive or administrative action or both” for disobeying a lawful order, according to two messages from top Navy officials this week. Reserve members were given 120 days to take the vaccine.
In one of the notices, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said, “The Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps have authority to exercise the full range of administrative and disciplinary actions to hold non-exempt Service Members appropriately accountable. This may include, but is not limited to, removal of qualification for advancement, promotions, reenlistment, or continuation, consistent with existing regulations, or otherwise considering vaccination status in personnel actions as appropriate.”
According to Del Toro, non-exempt service members who refuse the vaccine will be considered in violation of a lawful order under Article 92 or the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“Vaccination is the most effective tool we have to prevent widespread manifestation of COVID-19 in our force,” he claimed. “Within the last year, millions of Americans have received approved COVID-19 vaccines in response to this emergency.”
“As the faithful maritime protectors of our country in peacetime and war, each of us must take ownership of our readiness to preserve and protect the force, and ensure the success of our mission,” Del Toro continued.
Del Toro’s message said the vaccine mandate stems from an effort to protect “the health of the force and warfighting readiness.” He added that he “applaud[s] all of you who have become fully vaccinated. Your action helps to ensure the health and safety of you, your family, your shipmates, and your mission.”
The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Adm. Mike Gilday, sent a message to the fleet on Tuesday reiterating Del Toro’s notice.
“Disease modeling forecasts that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV 2), the virus that causes COVID-19, will continue to spread throughout the remainder of 2021,” the CNO’s message claims. “Data and modeling also indicate that the available vaccines will continue to be effective against severe illness and mortality caused by COVID 19.”
“Of note, all Navy COVID deaths have been individuals not immunized (one individual was partially vaccinated),” he continued. “In consideration of this persistent health and readiness threat to Navy service members, vaccination against COVID-19 is now mandatory per references (a) and (b).”
According to Gilday, two types of exemptions are available for the COVID-19 vaccination: medical and administrative. Administrative exemptions include religious accommodations.