October 7, 2021
More than 92% of active-duty troops have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as service deadlines for getting the jab approach.
But roughly 103,000 service members haven’t even gotten their first shot despite deadlines for being fully immunized. That includes roughly 48,600 Army soldiers, 7,000 Navy sailors, 15,500 Air Force airmen and Space Force Guardians, and 26,800 Marines, according to statistics released by the services.
With the Air Force and Space Force deadline of Nov. 2 less than four weeks away, the airmen and Guardians who have not yet been vaccinated will miss the mandate unless they opt to get the one-dose vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson within the next two weeks.
According to data obtained Wednesday by Military.com, 90% of the Army, 98% of the Navy, 95.4% of the Air Force and Space Force, and 85% of the Marine Corps have been partially or fully vaccinated.
For the Coast Guard, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, 92% of the active duty force has received at least one dose, while 86% are fully vaccinated.
An official told Military.com that Coast Guard men and women have been ordered to “be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as operations allow, starting immediately.”
While Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in late August that all U.S. service members will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, he left it to the military branches to draft their own policies for how and when troops should be vaccinated.
The airmen and Guardians who have not yet started their shot series have missed the window for making the deadline with the only vaccine officially approved by the Food and Drug Administration — the Comirnaty vaccine made by Pfizer — which requires two shots within three weeks of each other followed by two weeks to build maximum immune response.
They also aren’t able to get the Moderna vaccine, which is available under an emergency use authorization and requires six weeks from first shot to full immunity.
But they still can opt for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, also available under emergency use, by Oct. 19 to be fully vaccinated by their services’ deadlines.
The deadline for active-duty sailors and Marines to be fully vaccinated is Nov. 28, meaning they will need to get the first Pfizer vaccine shot by Oct. 24, their first Moderna vaccine by Oct. 17 or, at the latest, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Nov. 14.
Active-duty soldiers have a little more wiggle room for getting their shots: The Army’s deadline is Dec. 15.
Army Col. Aaron Bohrer, director of the Training Maneuver Support Center of Excellence at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, told Kansas City Public Media station KCUR Wednesday that soldiers who have not been immunized are receiving counseling from their commanders and must watch a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention video on the vaccines’ development and safety.
If they continue to refuse their commander’s vaccine order, they must meet with a medical provider and again with their commanders. Those who still refuse will receive a memo locally or placed in their permanent record saying they have not followed “a lawful order … and that’s detrimental for good order and discipline of their unit.”
Once the deadline passes, however, the procedure could change, Bohrer said.
“It will potentially change as we see what our numbers are of total refusals and as these religious exemption or medical exemption [applications] are processed,” Bohrer said on the KCUR show Up to Date. “The phase II operation may start as soon as 16 December, and that may be a decision point for our senior leadership that says you will start administratively separating soldiers that refuse the vaccine or there may be other ways we go with that.”
The deadlines for Reserve and National Guard members are slightly different by service. The Army Reserve and National Guard have until June 30, 2022, to be vaccinated, while the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard have until Dec. 2 of this year.
The deadline for members of the Navy Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve is Dec. 28.
The House version of the annual defense authorization bill contains a provision that would prohibit the services from discharging members with anything less than an honorable discharge for refusing the vaccine order.
The Senate’s version does not yet include the provision, although a separate bill has been introduced in the chamber by several Republicans, including Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas.
“As a physician and veteran who is confident that the vaccine has saved countless lives, I believe vaccinating our service members against COVID-19 is an important effort; however, whether or not to receive the vaccine should be a personal choice between an individual and their doctor,” Marshall said in a press release. “Service members who refuse to get vaccinated, and are subsequently separated from the service, should not receive anything other than an honorable discharge.”
As of Wednesday, 62 U.S. service members have died from COVID-19, including 36 in just the last three months.
The deaths in the last week include an active-duty sailor, Aviation Electrician’s Mate 1st Class Cory Weber, 51, who died Oct. 3 in Las Vegas after a battle with COVID-19 that began Sept. 20 when he was hospitalized for the illness.
Weber was assigned to Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Command in Fallon, Nevada.
The Army and the Texas National Guard also recorded the deaths of three yet-to-be-identified troops in the past week from the coronavirus.
Despite the rise in deaths in the U.S. military since the summer, the case fatality rate within the services remains low, at .025%, compared with 1.6% in the general U.S. population.
Roughly one-third of those members known to have died of COVID-19 were 40 years old or younger; the youngest was 23 while the oldest was 61. According to defense officials, none was fully vaccinated.
There have been more than 246,700 cases of COVID-19 among U.S. service members.