Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops are still not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 despite approaching mandate deadlines which could result in widespread disciplinary action and discharges, a new report revealed Sunday.
According to data reviewed by the Washington Post, the military COVID-19 vaccination rate has increased since President Joe Biden and Pentagon leaders mandated it, but hundreds of thousands of troops still haven’t complied with the order.
Of the Navy’s active-duty troops, 90 percent are fully vaccinated, while just over 70 percent of the Marine Corps is. Both branches must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28. Around 60,000 Air force personnel have just three weeks to take the COVID-19 shot.
Officials told the Post that the variance in vaccination rates is likely attributable to the staggered deadlines, adding that they anticipate a jump in fully vaccinated personnel as the deadlines approach.
Critics say the vaccination deadlines could impact military readiness, particularly in the National Guard, which reportedly has a large number of service members who are refusing to get vaccinated.
“The Army’s policy is incentivizing inaction until the latest possible date,” said Katherine L. Kuzminski, a military policy expert at the Center for a New American Security, noting Army Reserve and National Guard troops aren’t required to be fully vaccinated until mid-2022.
“The way we’ve seen the virus evolve tells us looking out to June 30 may need to be reconsidered,” Kuzminski said.
The Army Guard and Reserve make up around 522,000 soldiers combined, or nearly a quarter of the entire United States military. Just around 40 percent are fully vaccinated. Active-duty Army is around 81 percent.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, roughly 250,000 service members have contracted COVID-19, Pentagon data showed, and just over 2,000 were hospitalized.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Terence M. Kelley said the delayed deadline for reserve units gives personnel the “necessary time to update records and process exemption requests.”
“We expect all unvaccinated soldiers to receive the vaccine as soon as possible. Individual soldiers are required to receive the vaccine when available,” Kelley said.
Navy SEAL and Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw has repeatedly tweeted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin the same question about the military’s vaccine mandates, writing, “Question for the SECDEF: are you really willing to allow a huge exodus of experienced service members just because they won’t take the vaccine? Honestly, Americans deserve to know how you plan on dealing with this blow to force readiness – it’s already causing serious problems.”