The majority of the military will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the year, or face possible involuntary separation or other discipline. But for about 520,000 members of the Army Reserve and Army National Guard, they have an extra six months to get their shots and get them recorded.
There’s a distinct reason for that, the National Guard Bureau chief told Military Times on Wednesday, and it has to do with how Army reserve troops are assigned geographically. Rather than traveling to a base for drill weekends, Army reservists are spread out in thousands of communities, with some Guard units having as few as 30 soldiers assigned.
“And when you look at the requirements for freezing [doses] and for administration within a certain time period, we wanted to provide the greatest flexibility to reach every single soldier,” Army Gen. Dan Hokanson said.
Between now and June, drilling Army National Guardsmen will see their commands over roughly 14 days, Hokanson said, giving them enough time to get first and second vaccine doses brought out to each unit.
Soldiers who don’t want to wait for a drill weekend can get vaccinated through a civilian provider and present their proof to their commands for recording.
The other services, including their reserve components, are all required to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 28. After a late-summer surge in new cases and an unprecedented number of deaths, COVID-19′s effects have somewhat dwindled within the military, as more and more troops have gotten vaccinated.
To date, there have been more than 40,000 COVID-19 cases in the National Guard, out of roughly 250,000 in the military overall.
Of 75 deaths, 17 have been among Army Guardsmen, with another 15 in the Army Reserve.
“I’m always concerned about the loss of any soldier is, is just devastating to organization and the people and the families involved,” Hokanson said when asked if the extra six months concerns him in terms of risk of more cases and deaths in the Army National Guard. “And so we’re doing everything we can to get them out there.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.