The Navy will start processing unvaccinated active-duty sailors for separation under a new policy guidance released Wednesday. Thousands of sailors risk ending their career’s early and repaying bonuses and education fees for failing to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of November.
“We want every sailor to receive the vaccine and stay Navy. And if a sailor gets their shot, we will honor that and make every effort to retain them,” Rear Adm. James Waters, the Navy’s director of military personnel plans and policy, told reporters. “On the other hand, those who continue to refuse the vaccine will be required to leave the Navy.”
Wednesday’s guidance comes two weeks after the Navy’s COVID-19 vaccine deadline for active-duty sailors. As of Dec. 9, the Navy has 5,731 sailors who remain unvaccinated, representing 1.6 percent of the active-duty force. Of the unvaccinated, 326 have temporary medical exemptions and seven have a permanent medical exemption. The service received 2,705 religious accommodation requests but has not approved any of them.
The Air Force recently separated 27 people for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine after passing its Nov. 2 deadline for active-duty airmen. All were in their first term of enlistment, the Associated Press reported.
The Navy’s COVID-19 Consolidated Disposition Authority is the Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell. He oversees each case where a sailor has requested an exemption from the policy or has outright refused to receive the vaccine. Active-duty sailors who decide now to receive the vaccine following the Nov. 28 deadline must notify their command who then informs the disposition authority who can pause and later stop the separation process. From there, the authority will determine what actions to take against the sailor based on the circumstances of their case.
Sailors who are refusing to get the vaccine generally fall into two categories: those with a deeply held religious belief against vaccination or a general sense that the COVID-19 vaccine is not safe, Fleet Master Chief Wes Koshoffer from MyNavyHR said, citing discussions he’s had with sailors. The Navy is not formally collecting any information on why people are refusing the vaccine outside of a request for a religious or medical exemption, said Capt. Dave Hecht, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel.