Four branches of the U.S. Armed Forces have announced vaccination deadlines under a Pentagon mandate to inoculate the entire military, with the Army latest to set a tough date for personnel to receive the plug.
Active-duty Army personnel must be fully vaccinated by December 15, the branch announced in a announcement Tuesday and noted that reservists and National Guard units have until June 30, 2022.
“This is literally a matter of life and death for our soldiers, their families and the communities we live in,” said U.S. Army Surgeon Lieutenant General Scott Dingle. “The number of cases and deaths remains worrying as the Delta variant spreads, making strength protection through mandatory vaccination a health and emergency priority for the entire army.”
Soldiers can request exemptions if they have one “Legitimate medical, religious or administrative grounds” the army said, but added that those who “Refusing to be vaccinated” without exception will face “Administrative or non-judicial punishment” even “Facilitation of tasks or discharge.”
The Army’s announcement follows similar movements from the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Earlier this month, Air Force set a 2 November date for all active pilots, while other staff were given a deadline of 2 December. Members of Marines and Navy must be fully vaccinated by 28 November; reservists have until December 28th.
The branches moved to set deadlines on the heels of one order by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in late August, who demanded that all 1.3 million active soldiers be vaccinated against coronavirus, but allowed each service to decide exactly how the mandate should be implemented.
DoD’s vaccination rule is one among a stream of federal requirements imposed in recent weeks. Although President Joe Biden has vowed not to issue a full mandate, his administration has slowly expanded the number of Americans federally required to take the shot through a series of legislative actions, with piecemeal mandates now covering a large portion of the U.S. population.
In total, more than 1.1 million soldiers have been fully immunized across all four branches (space force is counted with air force numbers), according to Pentagon data, which shows that the navy and the air force are leading in grafts, each boasting vaccination rates of over 90%. The Army, the largest division of personnel, has vaccinated about 414,780 soldiers, or about 86% of the branch, while the Marine Corps lags behind with only about 65% of its approximately 180,000 members fully vaccinated.
Marines have experienced a greater hesitation against the vaccines compared to other branches, with data from ril showing a bounce rate of almost 39% among the service, compared to 33% throughout the military. In addition, a straw survey conducted earlier this year with active soldiers, military spouses and veterans showed that more than half, or 53%, did not plan to be vaccinated, indicating significant vaccine skepticism among the armed forces. The FDA’s subsequent full evidence for the Pfizer vaccine may have helped allay concerns in the past, as other survey data proposed full authorization would help increase public confidence.
Although only 43 service members had died due to Covid-19 on September 8, the virus has also claimed more than 400 employees and contractors of the Civil Defense Ministry. Eruptions aboard U.S. warships have also hit the Navy throughout the pandemic with the USS Theodore Roosevelt experienced a wave of infections last year that exceeded 1,100, killed one sailor and hospitalized several others. In March 2020, “Concerns over the spread of coronavirus” also resulted in a global, 60-day freeze of all U.S. troop movements, further highlighting the impact Covid-19 has had on the armed forces.
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