WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Navy has set a timeline for its members to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and announced discharge details for those who refuse the vaccine without a pending or approved exemption.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memo in August that mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for all service members. The mandate came after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine for those 16 and older. Before then, it was approved through an FDA emergency use authorization.
Now, the Navy has set a deadline for all active active-duty sailors to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28, while those in the selected reserve have until Dec. 28.
This deadline makes Nov. 14 and Dec. 14 the final days active and selected reserve, respectively, can receive the second of the two required shots for a two-dose vaccine or the single dose of a one-dose vaccine, and complete the 14-day waiting period required to achieve full vaccination.
“Sailors must be prepared to execute their mission at all times, in places throughout the world, including where vaccination rates are low and disease transmission is high,” wrote the Navy in a press release. “Immunizations are of paramount importance to protecting the health of the force and the warfighting readiness of the fleet.”
The Navy says its policy goal is to achieve a fully vaccinated force against the threat of COVID-19.
“Tragically, there have been 164 deaths within the Navy family due to COVID-19, far exceeding the combined total of all other health or mishap related injuries and deaths over the same time period,” wrote Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, Jr., the Chief of Naval Personnel.
Of those deaths, the Navy says 144 were not immunized and the vaccination status of the remaining 20 remains undetermined.
To oversee the administrative discharge process for those refusing the vaccine, the Navy established the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority (CCDA).
The Navy says administrative actions may begin as soon as a person meets the definition of “refusing the vaccine,” which is a Navy service member who received a lawful order to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is not or will not be fully vaccinated on the date required by the order, and does not have a pending or approved exemption request.
Effective immediately upon the release of a message to sailors, the Navy says commands shall not allow those refusing the vaccine to promote or advance, reenlist, or execute orders, with the exception of separation orders, until the CCDA has completed disposition of their case.
For officers and enlisted serving in Navy leadership roles refusing the vaccine, they will be notified immediately in writing that they have five days to either begin a vaccination series or request an exemption before being relieved and have detachment for cause initiated.
The Navy says some commanding officers are authorized to temporarily reassign Navy service members who refuse the vaccine, regardless of exemption status, based on operational readiness or mission requirements.
Commanding officers must identify those refusing the vaccine and verify that the sailors have an initial counseling. Within 30 days of a Navy service member refusing the vaccine, reporting seniors must submit a special evaluation or fitness report.
Those separated only for vaccine refusal will receive no lower than a general discharge under honorable conditions. This type of discharge could result in the loss of some veterans’ benefits.
Navy service members who started terminal leave on or before the applicable deadlines are administratively exempted from vaccine requirements.
Sailors seeking an exemption to the vaccine mandate can apply for medical reasons or religious accommodation.