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The Navy has discharged 23 active-duty sailors for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
This is the first time the Navy has dismissed sailors due to the vaccine mandate, according to The Associated Press. The discharges came this week as the Navy released new COVID-19 guidance that requires all deployed sailors and air crew to be vaccinated but relaxes some quarantine practices on ships.
Navy leaders said Tuesday that all operational units — those deployed out to sea — must be fully vaccinated. Any sailors who have medical or administrative exemptions must be shifted to shore duty. Some Navy SEALs and other special warfare sailors have filed a lawsuit against the mandate, the AP reported.
There have been recent COVID-19 outbreaks on several ships, Vice Adm. William Merz, the Navy’s deputy chief of operations, told reporters on Tuesday. He wouldn’t share the number but said the outbreaks have been “statistically insignificant” and haven’t affected naval operations.
Sailors have had minimal symptoms and recovered quickly, Merz said, particularly with the Omicron variant. He said the Navy strongly recommends the COVID-19 booster shot and will likely require it in the future.
The Navy’s discharges come as the number of dismissed troops increases across the services due to vaccine refusal, the AP reported. The Marine Corps has discharged 335 Marines, while the Air Force has discharged 111 airmen. The Army is the only service that hasn’t yet discharged any active-duty personnel due to the vaccine mandate.
The Air Force and Navy have also discharged entry-level service members in boot camps who haven’t yet reported to their service jobs. About 22 Navy and 37 Air Force recruits have been sent home.
The Air Force discharged the first service members for vaccine refusal, dismissing 27 active-duty airmen in mid-December. A few days later, the Marine Corps dismissed 103 active-duty Marines.
The military services have been going through a process for those who refuse vaccines or request exemptions, the AP reported. The reviews require counseling with medical personnel, chaplains, and senior commanders. More troops will likely be discharged in coming weeks as the reviews are completed.
All the sailors who have been dismissed have received honorable discharges, the AP reported.
About 5,000 sailors — or a little over 1% of the active-duty force — remain unvaccinated. About 6% of the Navy Reserve sailors are unvaccinated. No Reserve members have been discharged for vaccine refusal.
The Associated Press: “Navy discharges 1st active-duty sailors for vaccine refusal.”
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