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Navy secretary signals some leniency for Marines who miss vaccine deadline

U.S. Marines and sailors with III Marine Expeditionary Force receive COVID-19 vaccines at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, Jan. 12, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Francesca Landis)

Active-duty Marines who do not comply with the directive to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the department-mandated Nov. 28 deadline will be counseled and given the chance to comply before being forced out of the military, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told reporters Wednesday.

Administrative messages to the Navy and Marine Corps, which both fall under the secretary’s authority, say sailors and Marines who do not comply with the military-wide vaccine mandate will be administratively separated and could face further administrative punishment unless they have an approved or pending waiver.

However, when asked about the Marine Corps during a phone conference with reporters Wednesday, Del Toro signaled there may be some deadline wiggle-room for those who change their minds.

“We’re going to … offer them an opportunity to change their mind,” Del Toro said, adding that the service won’t just kick Marines out as soon as the deadline hits.

Del Toro didn’t directly address non-compliant sailors during Wednesday’s call, but during a recent visit to San Diego, he said the service will take a similar approach to non-compliant sailors.

“We’re going to work with those that decide not to get vaccinated for whatever reason,” Del Toro told reporters in San Diego on Nov. 8. “We’re going to counsel them, we’re going to talk to them and we’re going to give them opportunities first.”

Although the secretary did not say just how much lenience non-compliant sailors and Marines can expect upon missing the deadline, administrative messages issued by the services suggest it won’t be much. Both branches have been instructing their unit commanders on how to prepare for and proceed with administrative separations for those who refuse the vaccine.

The latest, issued Monday by the Navy, instructs commanders to begin preparing for administrative separation for any sailors refusing the vaccine and await further orders.

A Marine administrative message issued Oct. 23 instructs commanders to provide lists of all non-compliant, active-duty Marines by Nov. 30. Navy and Marine reservists have until Dec. 30 to be fully vaccinated.

Among the active-duty ranks, 94 percent of the Marine Corps is at least partially vaccinated and 91 percent are fully vaccinated, the Corps said Thursday. In its reserve component, 75 percent are partially vaccinated and 66 percent fully vaccinated.

The Navy’s numbers are even better — 95 percent of the force is fully vaccinated and 99 percent have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, the service said Monday.

Both the Navy and Marine Corps have pending medical and religious waiver requests but have not said how many have been submitted. Service members with a pending request won’t immediately be separated past the deadline while their requests are pending. However, the Navy said any sailor whose request is denied will have five days to start vaccinations.

Del Toro said that even if the Navy and Marine Corps are lose service members in this process, that loss will have a “minimal impact” to overall mission readiness.

Neither branch has released numbers specific to their San Diego-based units.


© 2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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