US military has vaccinated more than 97% of service members
By Oren Liebermann, CNN
(CNN) -- The US military has vaccinated more than 97% for its active-duty force against Covid-19 as the Army, which had the latest vaccination deadline amongst the services, released its latest numbers.
Despite the phenomenal success the military has had in vaccinating the armed forces, approximately 35,000 troops remain unvaccinated. That number includes thousands of pending requests, largely for religious exemptions. So far, no such exemption requests have been granted by any of the services.
The Army, which hit its vaccination deadline on Wednesday, has fully or partially vaccinated 98% of its active-duty force, with 3,864 soldier refusals.
Next month, the service will begin involuntarily discharging soldiers who refuse the vaccine without an approved or pending exemption.
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said vaccination was "first and foremost" about Army readiness as she thanked vaccinated soldiers and the medical staff who have supported the pandemic response.
"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," she said in a statement.
The Army has not granted any of the 85 religious exemption requests it has reviewed yet, though there are still 1,661 pending requests. Six active-duty leaders, including two battalion commanders, have been relieved of duty, while 2,767 soldiers have received general officer written reprimands for vaccine refusals.
The Army is the largest service in the military, with nearly half a million active-duty soldiers.
The Air Force has fully or partially vaccinated 97.5% of its active-duty force as of this week, while the Marine Corps and Navy have vaccinated approximately 95% and 98%, respectively.
Earlier this week, the Air Force began discharging service members who refuse to get vaccinated. A total of 27 airmen were separated in what is likely the first-time troops have been removed from the military for failing to follow the vaccine mandate. The Air Force had the earliest vaccination deadline of the services, requiring its active-duty personnel to be fully vaccinated by November 2.
"We don't want to see anybody administratively discharged for not taking the vaccine, because we want to see them take the vaccine, because it's a valid military medical requirement," said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby at a press briefing Thursday. "It makes them safer, it makes their unit safer, and it is, as the Secretary said, a very real readiness issue."
The Navy made clear that it too would begin discharging vaccine refusers soon.
On Wednesday, the Navy put out its updated guidance that sailors who fail to follow the lawful order to take the vaccine will be separated.
"In order to ensure a fully vaccinated force, US Navy policy is, first, that all Navy service members receive the vaccine as directed and, second, that any who refuse the vaccine be processed for separation at the earliest possible opportunity," said Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, Jr., the chief of naval personnel.
Any sailor who refused the vaccine but changed their mind can remain in the military.
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