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COVID Deaths Rise as Vaccine Deadlines Loom

Washington Report

Deaths from COVID-19 within the military continue to rise, with the most recent coming exclusively from the reserve components, which trails the active component in vaccination rates.

Defense Department leaders announced five new deaths last week, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths to 36 since August. Prior to August, the Defense Department averaged one or two deaths a month during the pandemic.

Of the five most recent deaths, three service members belonged to National Guard units. They included a 49-year-old sergeant in Alabama, a 53-year-old master sergeant assigned to the Joint Force Headquarters in Texas and a 53-year-old sergeant first class in Tennessee.

Earlier this month, officials announced the COVID-related deaths of two others Guardsmen, including a 34-year-old first lieutenant with the Texas Army National Guard and a 41-year-old master sergeant serving in the Texas Air Guard.

According to Army Times, the Army Reserve and Army Guard have accounted for more than half of all COVID-19 deaths in the military since August, despite accounting for just 20 percent of the overall military.

Of the 67 service members who have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, 66 were completely unvaccinated, according to officials, while one had received the first dose of a two-dose vaccine.

Pentagon leaders last week said an estimated 97% of active-duty troops are at least partially vaccinated as the first deadlines for mandatory vaccinations approach. Members of the Air Force and Space Force must be vaccinated by Nov. 2, with Navy and Marine Corps personnel by Nov. 28 and Dec. 15 for Army personnel.

Guardsmen have a much longer timeline for vaccination. Members of the Air Guard have until Dec. 2, while the Army Guard has until June 30.

Defense leaders have said there could be disciplinary action, up to involuntary separation, for troops who refuse to be vaccinated without an approved exemption.