- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2021

About 5% of active-duty Marines have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, military officials said late Monday, military officials said late Monday, potentially leaving thousands of service members with an uncertain future following a key Nov. 28 deadline to get the shot.

The Marine Corps’ 95% vaccination rate is expected to be among the lowest of the military services, though officials stressed that the vast majority of Marines have gotten at least one dose.

“I have great appreciation for all those who made these vaccinations possible, including the civilian and Navy medical personnel who worked tirelessly over the past months to protect our Marines and families,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said in a statement.

Pentagon officials have made clear that Marines who don’t get vaccinated — and don’t receive a medical or religious waiver — may be kicked out of the force. Other services also have mounted aggressive pushes to get their personnel vaccinated with the threat of temporary or perhaps even permanent expulsion.

But amid COVID-19 vaccine skepticism across the country and in the armed forces, each military service has dealt with a massive number of waiver applications from personnel seeking to avoid immunization.

As of Monday, 316 Marines have gotten a temporary medical exemption. Another 452 have been granted a temporary administrative exemption. Fourteen Marines have received a permanent medical exemption.

The vast majority of waiver requests have been filed on religious grounds. A stunning 2,441 Marines have filed religious waiver requests, saying the vaccine mandate violates either a religious or deeply held moral belief.

Just over 1,900 of those have already been processed, officials said, and none have been approved.

“The Marine Corps’ process for evaluating requests for religious accommodation that require an exception to policy follows a rigorous approach to ensure Marines receive due consideration,” the Marine Corps said in a statement.

Critics, however, have argued that the services simply don’t have the manpower to handle an overwhelming number of religious waiver requests. The process involves individual interviews with military chaplains and a formal review by officers.

By comparison, the Air Force has received nearly 5,000 religious waiver requests.

The Navy‘s vaccination deadline also was Nov. 28, but the service has not yet released its final figures. The Army’s deadline is Dec. 15.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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