The Army’s deadline for active duty troops to be vaccinated against COVID-19 passed Wednesday, and Army officials offered a snapshot of the service’s data and next steps in a Thursday morning release.
The vast majority of the Army’s approximately 485,900 active duty soldiers have complied with the Pentagon’s vaccine requirement, the release said — 96% of troops are fully vaccinated, and an additional 2% have received at least one dose.
Only 3,864 soldiers have “refused the vaccination order without a pending or approved exemption,” the release said. That includes two battalion commanders and an additional four “leaders” who have been relieved, but the release didn’t specify the rank or echelon of the latter four.
In January, commanders will begin involuntarily discharging soldiers who have refused the shot. Most of them — 2,767 — have already received a general officer memorandum of reprimand, an adverse administrative action that could end their careers even if they now opt to get the shot.
Army Times reported in September that the service was planning to discharge those who refused the shot.
According to a provision in the fiscal 2022 defense bill, which was passed by the Senate Wednesday and now awaits President Joe Biden’s signature, troops discharged solely for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine will receive either an honorable or general discharge.
“Thank you to the medical staff who have been supporting the pandemic response at home and to the vaccinated Soldiers who put the health and welfare of their fellow Soldiers and families first,” said Army Secretary Christine Wormuth in the release. “To those who continue to refuse the vaccine and are not pending a final decision on a medical or administrative exemption, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine. If not, we will begin involuntary separation proceedings.”
Exemptions and accommodations
As of Dec. 16, the Army has approved thousands of temporary medical and administrative exemptions, but virtually no permanent medical exemptions or religious accommodations.
More than 6,200 active duty soldiers have temporary administrative or medical exemptions from getting the shot, including some troops who have pending permanent exemption requests.
Only four active duty soldiers have received permanent medical exemptions to date.
The service is moving slowly on religious accommodation requests. Out of the 1,746 active duty troops who requested accommodation, none have received approval, and only 85 have been denied, according to the release.
But even if all exemptions are denied, and all troops who requested exemptions leave the Army, the doomsday scenario predicted by some critics of the Defense Department’s mandatory vaccination campaign won’t come to fruition — only two percent of the active duty force would face discharge.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.