Navy Prepares for Discharges of Sailors Who Refuse COVID Vaccine

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U.S. Navy sailor gets a COVID-19 vaccine at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay
Master Chief Petty Officer Darrin Bostater, of Submarine Squadron 16, homeported at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, gets a COVID vaccine. (U.S. Navy photo by Deidre Smith)

The Navy said Thursday it is ready to dole out discharges -- either honorable or general -- to sailors who do not take one of the COVID-19 vaccines by a mandatory Nov. 28 deadline.

Sailors who refuse the shot can be reassigned while their cases are heard, and will not be promoted or given any other orders -- even if they have a pending exemption application, according to new administrative guidance sent to the fleet.

Senior officers were ordered to be inoculated immediately, and will be given five days to comply once notified by a superior or face detachment for cause proceedings. If separated, they won't be eligible for involuntary separation pay and can have any unearned special or incentive pays recouped.

"An unvaccinated senior leader without a pending or approved exemption calls into question the Navy's trust and confidence regarding their ability to ensure unit readiness or to maintain

good order and discipline," the memo said.

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The military services set deadlines for vaccination and have been warning for weeks that refusing the vaccine could carry penalties after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made it mandatory on Aug. 25. The Navy has now made it explicit that sailors will be booted for refusal.

The Navy said Thursday that 144 of the 164 deaths in the department, or 87% of the death toll, were unvaccinated victims. The vaccination status of the remaining 20 is unknown, it said. The statistics include civilian personnel.

Overall, 67 troops from all the services have died from COVID, according to Defense Department statistics.

Any cases of sailors refusing the vaccine will be handled by the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority, a panel created for that purpose and chaired by Vice Adm. John Nowell, the chief of naval personnel.

The panel could seek to recoup bonuses, special and incentive pay, and the cost of training and education.

About 98% of sailors have at least started the inoculation process, according to the service. They must complete either a two-shot vaccination or a single-shot vaccination by Nov. 14 to make the service's deadline because a two-week waiting period is required for full immunity.

Nearly 7,000 sailors still need to take the vaccine, according to the Navy figures.

Troops in the other service branches are also under the gun. The Air Force faces the closest deadline for inoculation on Nov. 2. About 91% of active-duty airmen have been at least partially vaccinated, according to the service's latest data on Oct. 12.

The Navy and Marine Corps deadline for active-duty troops is Nov. 28, and the Army deadline is Dec. 15.

-- Travis Tritten can be reached at travis.tritten@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

Related: Catholic Church Says Troops Can Decline COVID Vaccine as First Deadline Approaches

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