More than 100,000 active duty members of the U.S. armed forces are yet to receive even their first COVID-19 vaccine – and with less than three weeks to go until the deadline for full vaccination in some branches concern is beginning to mount about possible mass firings.
John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday that he did not know whether the Air Force – which has a November 2 deadline for full vaccination, the earliest of all branches – was now promoting the single-shot Johnson & Johnson jab.
The 10,000 members of the Air Force yet to receive their first shot will now not be able to complete the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccination in time, because there must be three to six weeks between the first and second shot.
Kirby said that the armed forces were ‘making progress’, noting that 96.7 per cent of active duty personnel have had at least one dose, and 83.7 per cent are fully vaccinated.
‘Commanders will try to get these troops to make the right decision based on information and education,’ Kirby said.
The 103,000 service members who have not had their first shot include 48,600 soldiers; 7,000 sailors; 15,500 airmen and Space Force Guardians; and 26,800 Marines. The statistics above refer to regular troops, and not reservists
John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Tuesday that they were hoping ‘to get these troops to make the right decision’ before the vaccine deadlines began to hit. The Air Force has set a November 2 deadline for its members to be fully vaccinated, yet 10,000 are still to have their first shot
‘And for somebody that refuses, they’ll be given a chance to get more context from medical service providers as well as their chain of command.
‘It’s a lawful order.
‘So obviously, if after all that effort the lawful order is disobeyed, there could be disciplinary action.
‘But the secretary believes that there’s lots of tools available to leaders, short of using the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to get these troops to do the right thing for themselves and for their units.’
Yet 103,000 service members have not had their first shot despite Lloyd Austin, the Defense Secretary, saying on August 9 that he intended to make the vaccine mandatory for all of its 1.4 million service members by mid-September.
The order was actually issued on August 24 – the day after the FDA officially approved the vaccine, ending its ’emergency use’ authorization.
The 103,000 service members includes 48,600 Army soldiers; 7,000 Navy sailors; 15,500 Air Force airmen and Space Force Guardians; and 26,800 Marines, according to Military.com.
The Navy and Marines have set a November 28 deadline for their active duty forces to be fully vaccinated.
The Army have a December 15 deadline.
Members of the reserve forces – which have by far the lowest rates of vaccination among the armed forces – have until June 2022.
The Army National Guard and Army Reserve comprise approximately 522,000 soldiers – roughly a quarter of the entire U.S. military.
Among the Army National Guard the vaccination rate is only 38.5 per cent, and among the Army Reserve it is 40 per cent, according to an analysis by The Washington Post – and they account for nearly 40 per cent of the 62 service-member deaths due to the virus.
The Pentagon has left it up to individual commanders to encourage people to get the vaccine, and discipline those who refuse.
Army Col. Aaron Bohrer, director of the Training Maneuver Support Center of Excellence at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, told KCUR last week that those still refusing to get the jab 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.
If they still refuse to comply, they will be told officially that they have disobeyed ‘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.
A soldier is seen being vaccinated on September 9 in Fort Knox, Kentucky
A member of the United States military receives the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at Camp Foster on April 28 in Ginowan, Japan
‘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,’ said Bohrer.
‘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.’
On September 23 a group including four Air Force officers and a Secret Service agent filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to block the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccination mandates.
The lawsuit plaintiffs include a Border Patrol agent, three employees of federal contractors, and Daniel Jackson, a State Department Foreign Service officer.
They said that ‘Americans have remained idle for far too long as our nation’s elected officials continue to satisfy their voracious appetites for power.’
The case is pending.
The Pentagon also has declined to comment on other lawsuits by service members, including a case filed in August in Colorado that demanded the Defense Department create vaccine requirement exemptions for troops who have antibodies from previous infections.
The case fatality rate within the services remains low, at 0.025 per cent, compared with 1.6 per cent in the general U.S. population.
Roughly one-third of the 62 members known to have died of COVID-19 were 40 years old or younger; the youngest was 23 while the oldest was 61.
None of them was fully vaccinated.
There have been more than 246,700 cases of COVID-19 among U.S. service members, and 2,000 hospitalizations.