The Army has outlined its plan to comply with the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate amid a spike in COVID-19 deaths among members of the military.
The service was the last to announce its plans after Pentagon leaders announced a vaccine would be mandatory last month. The Army timeline is the longest of the services, with active-duty soldiers having until Dec. 15, 2021, to be fully vaccinated. Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers will have until June 30, 2022.
Guard airmen will have until Dec. 2 to be fully vaccinated, the Air Force previously announced. Active-duty airmen have until Nov. 2. The Navy also previously announced its timeline for Marines and Navy personnel, with active-duty personnel due to be vaccinated by Nov. 28 and all reservists by Dec. 28.
Officials in all services have said refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine without an approved exemption for medical or administrative reasons, including religious accommodations, may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which does not apply to the Guard in a non-Title 10 status.
Army leaders said soldiers who refuse the vaccine will first be counseled by their chain of command and medical providers, with continued failure to comply possibly resulting in administrative or non-judicial punishment, to include relief of duties or discharge.
Commanders, command sergeants major, first sergeants and officers in command select list positions who refuse to be vaccinated face suspension and removal. Officers and noncommissioned officers who have been selected for command, key billet or nominative sergeant major positions will also be subject to removal from the list for those assignments should they refuse a vaccine.
Commanders will request a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand for any soldier who refuses to be vaccinated. Such reprimands can be career ending.
“This is quite literally a matter of life and death for our soldiers, their families and the communities in which we live,” said Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, the Army Surgeon General. “Case counts and deaths continue to be concerning as the Delta variant spreads, which makes protecting the force through mandatory vaccination a health and readiness priority for the Total Army.”
Military COVID deaths have been on the rise in recent months. As of mid-July, just 26 service members had died of COVID-19 spanning more than a year. But as of last week, 20 more troops had died since.
The latest deaths included two members of the National Guard, one each in Alabama and Texas. Neither have had their names publicly released.
According to reports, no fully vaccinated troops have died of COVID-19.
Per the Pentagon, 51% of active-component and reserve-component troops are fully vaccinated, with another 16% having received the first of a two-dose vaccination. But those numbers are bolstered by an active component force reporting an 88% vaccination rate. Guard and Reserve troops are far less likely to have received the vaccine, officials said.