As many as 19,000 active-duty Marines and Navy sailors chose not to get vaccinated against the coronavirus by their shared Nov. 28 deadline, a dilemma for military leaders who have threatened to expel personnel refusing to comply with the Biden administration’s mandate.
In both services, the number of holdouts is around 9,500, according to official counts. And while the Marines’ margin of 5 percent unvaccinated had been anticipated, it was an unexpected outcome for the Navy, which in announcing its final tally this week acknowledged that officials had uncovered last-minute “discrepancies” with its data-tracking system that revealed a larger pool of unvaccinated sailors than had been projected. As recently as last week, official data showed that 99.8 percent of sailors had at least one shot by last Sunday’s deadline. The true number is just over 97 percent.
These personnel now join more than 8,000 in the Air Force who declined to get vaccinated. In all three services, many are awaiting decisions on exemption requests, though officials have emphasized the number of permanent waivers granted was likely to be nominal. Army data shows four percent of its active force — about 19,000 soldiers — have not received any vaccine dose, with the compliance deadline of Dec. 15 now less than two weeks away.
While, overall, the vast majority of service members have complied with the Pentagon’s vaccination mandate, even a few percent of the military’s 2.1 million troops translates to tens of thousands of people. Officials have said that those who are unvaccinated are not deployable, underscoring the challenge ahead not only for unit-level commanders facing workforce challenges, but for senior officials in Washington and beyond responsible for setting the U.S. military’s priorities and maintaining an adequate presence across the world.
David Lapan, a retired Marine Corps officer and former communications chief for the service, said the Navy and Marine Corps must pursue answers as to why the order, issued in August by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the behest of President Biden, was rejected by thousands of service members, and whether failures in education, communication or leadership — or all three — are to blame.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Alex Horton