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Army to begin kicking out soldiers refusing COVID vaccine

U.S. Army Soldiers draw and prepare vaccines at the Atlanta Community Vaccination Center in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, March 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Robert P Wormley III)
December 27, 2021

The Army said it will begin kicking out thousands of unvaccinated active-duty soldiers as early as next week. Less than two percent of the branch had not received a mandated COVID-19 vaccine by the December 15 deadline.

In a December 16 statement, the Army said, “Beginning in January, Army commanders will initiate involuntary separation for the less than one percent of active component Soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption.”

As of December 16, 3,864 active-duty soldiers had refused to take the vaccine and did not have a pending or approved exemption. Another 6,263 active-duty soldiers were granted or had pending medical or administrative exemptions. Although administrative exemptions include religious exemptions, no religious accommodations had been approved, the Army said.

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in the statement, “To those who continue to refuse the vaccine and are not pending a final decision on a medical or administrative exemption, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine. If not, we will begin involuntary separation proceedings.”

The Army said it has already fired six active-duty officer leaders – two of whom were battalion commanders – and issued 2,767 reprimands to soldiers refusing to get the vaccine. The Army announced the decision to relieve those leaders the day after its Dec. 15 vaccination deadline passed.

As of December 16, 98 percent of the Army’s active force was either fully or partially vaccinated, a total of 468,469 soldiers.

When including all components of the Army, including both the active force, Reserves and National Guard, only about 83 percent of the force has received at least one vaccine dose. Reserve and National Guard units must be fully vaccinated by June 30, 2022.

In September, the Army had said it would “fully comply” with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s order requiring all troops to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and refusal to follow the order “can be career ending.”

At the time, the Army said soldiers who reject the vaccine will initially go through counseling with their chain of command and medical personnel, but continued refusal “could result in administrative or non-judicial punishment” including “relief of duties or discharge.”

The service stated that soldiers who have “legitimate medical, religious or administrative” reasons can request an exemption from the military-wide mandate. Those who have pending requests will not be subject to adverse action until the exemption is fully processed.