The Marine Corps is no longer blocking Marines who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 from overseas deployments, a Corps spokesman has confirmed to Marine Corps Times.
“There are no current COVID-19 vaccine restrictions on deployments or assignments for the Marine Corps as a service,” Capt. Ryan Bruce told Marine Corps Times Wednesday. “Marines will defer to Combatant Command policies regarding deployments.”
In December 2022, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro had cautioned that repealing the mandate would create two categories of troops: those who could deploy and those who couldn’t.
But now, COVID-19 vaccination status no longer determines whether troops in the Department of the Navy can deploy. The Navy also recently scrapped its vaccination requirement for deployments, making the announcement via naval administrative message.
That NAVADMIN, which applied specifically to the Navy, acknowledged that the policies of some host countries could “create conditions-based criteria for liberty.”
It instructed combatant commanders to coordinate with the countries and local authorities to determine what those policies are.
The Navy and the Marine Corps are not only part of the same department; they also are often in the same physical space on deployments, with Marines frequently traveling aboard Navy ships.
The Marine Corps’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and the paucity of religious exemptions that the Corps granted, proved a source of significant controversy and even a class-action lawsuit.
As of December 2022, 96% of both active-duty and reservist Marines were fully vaccinated, a Marine Corps COVID-19 update stated. Under the mandate, Marines who hadn’t been vaccinated for COVID-19 couldn’t go on overseas deployments.
The Marine commandant, Gen. David Berger acknowledged in December 2022 that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate was hampering recruitment, especially in the South.
But Berger insisted that the mandate was critical for force readiness.
“That’s what you need to maintain a healthy unit that can deploy, on ship, ashore — it doesn’t matter,” he said at the time.
Congress, in the annual defense authorization bill it passed in December 2022, forced the military services to lift COVID-19 vaccine mandates. In January, the Marine Corps officially rolled back its mandate.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.