Medical Technology

Unvaccinated Sailors Will Face Discharge, Navy Says

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Active-duty sailors who aren’t fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 28 could be discharged, according to new guidance issued Thursday by the U.S. Navy.

The new details outline the consequences for those who don’t meet the Navy’s vaccine order. Navy Reserve members must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 28.

“Sailors must be prepared to execute their mission at all times, in places throughout the world, including where vaccination rates are low and disease transmission is high,” according to the guidance. “Immunizations are of paramount importance to protecting the health of the force and the warfighting readiness of the Fleet.”

To meet the deadline, active-duty sailors must receive their final dose of the vaccine by Nov. 14, which gives a two-week period for the dose to take full effect for people to be considered “fully vaccinated.” Those in the Navy Reserve must receive their final shot by Dec. 14.

As of Thursday, more than 98% of active-duty Navy service members have completed or started a COVID-19 vaccination series, Adm. William Lescher, the vice chief of naval operations, said in the guidance. The goal is to achieve a “fully vaccinated force against the persistent and lethal threat of COVID-19.”

About 94% of active-duty sailors and 89% of the total force are fully vaccinated, according to The Hill. About 94% of the force has received at least one shot.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 14 active-duty sailors have died from COVID-19. Dozens more contractors and civilians have died from the coronavirus as well.

“Tragically, there have been 164 deaths within the Navy family due to COVID-19, far exceeding the combined total of all other health or mishap related injuries and deaths over the same time period,” Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr., the chief of naval personnel, said in the statement.

Among those, 144 weren’t vaccinated, and the vaccination status of the other 20 wasn’t determined.

The Navy has established the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority to oversee the administrative discharge process for unvaccinated personnel, Lescher said. Navy personnel can request a medical or religious exemption for the vaccine.

Administrative actions can begin as soon as a Navy service member meets the definition of “refusing the vaccine,” according to the guidance. This means a Navy service member is not or will not be fully vaccinated by the required date and doesn’t have a pending or approved exemption request.

Once the guidance was released Thursday, sailors who refuse to get vaccinated aren’t allowed to be promoted, advance, reenlist or execute orders, with the exception of separation orders. Transfer orders may be canceled as well.

Officers and personnel serving in Navy leadership roles who refuse to get vaccinated will be notified in writing that they have five days to begin a vaccination series or request an exemption before being relieved, according to the guidance.

Commanding officers have been tasked with tracking and reporting sailors who refuse the vaccine. Those who receive separation orders for vaccine refusal could receive a general discharge under honorable conditions, which could result in the loss of some veterans’ benefits.


U.S. Navy: “Navy Sets Timeline and Discharge Details for Those Refusing the COVID-19 Vaccine.”

The Hill: “Navy releases guidance to discharge sailors refusing COVID-19 vaccine.”

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