The U.S. Navy has set up an organization to process the discharges of sailors who refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine and don’t have a pending or approved exemption request on the books.
On Thursday, Navy officials announced the creation of the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority to oversee the administrative discharge process for sailors who meet the definition of “refusing the vaccine.”
The Pentagon has not indicated how many Navy or other military personnel are known to be actively refusing the vaccine. While recent media reports have claimed more than 200,000 military personnel are yet to be fully vaccinated, the number refusing for political or other reasons is not clear.
Military officials have said that more than 98% of active-duty Navy personnel have already completed the vaccination series or are in the process. The Navy has also underscored the risks of not being vaccinated.
“There have been 164 deaths within the Navy family due to COVID-19, far exceeding the combined total of all other health or mishap related injuries or deaths over the same time period,” Vice Adm. John B. Nowell Jr., chief of naval personnel, said in a statement. He said 144 of the deaths were of individuals who had not been immunized, while the vaccination status of the remaining 20 personnel remains undetermined.
The Navy has ordered all active-duty sailors to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28, 2021. That means they have until Nov. 14 to have received the second of two required shots for the two-dose vaccine or the single dose of a one-dose vaccine, and complete the 14-day waiting period required to achieve full vaccination.
“Sailors must be prepared to execute their missions at all times, in places throughout the world, including where vaccination rates are low and disease transmission is high,” Navy officials said in a statement. “Immunizations are of paramount importance to protecting the health of the force and the warfighting readiness of the fleet.”
The announcement of the new organization to oversee administrative discharge for sailors refusing the vaccine comes nearly two months after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered that all military personnel be vaccinated.
Limited vaccine exemptions may be granted in some cases, including for potential medical or religious reasons. With regard to the Navy, the Pentagon has indicated that commanders are authorized to reassign Navy personnel who refuse the vaccine based on “operational readiness or mission requirements.”
But sailors who refuse may be discharged and officers without an approved exemption will have five days after being notified to either begin the vaccination process or be relieved of their duties.
The Navy‘s COVID-19 authority also has the power to recoup any bonus money or special duty pay from vaccine-refusing sailors, along with the cost of training and education, military officials said, adding that such sailors could receive a “general discharge under honorable conditions” as opposed to an “honorable discharge,” which could result in the loss of some veterans benefits.