The Navy has ousted more than 100 sailors from the service for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the service, 118 sailors have been booted from the service, including 96 active duty sailors who were separated with an honorable characterization of service. The Navy also signed off on 22 entry-level separations, meaning the sailors were still completing initial training periods within their first 180 days of active duty at the time of separation.
A total of 5,050 active component and 2,959 Ready Reserve sailors are unvaccinated, according to figures the Navy released Feb. 2. The service has approved 10 permanent medical exemptions, 259 temporary medical exemptions, and 60 administrative exemptions for active duty sailors. Likewise, the Navy has issued 9 temporary medical exemptions and 23 administrative exemptions for Navy Reserve sailors.
No religious accommodation requests have been authorized, although nearly 4,000 sailors submitted such requests.
But, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction last month blocking the Navy from penalizing 35 Navy SEALs and other special forces members for rejecting the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds.
“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote in January. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.”
The lawsuit has since been amended to include all Navy personnel seeking religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine as part of a class action lawsuit, according to First Liberty Institute, the religious liberty nonprofit that filed the lawsuit.
Vice Adm. William Merz, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, told reporters on Jan. 26 it’s significantly less expensive to separate a sailor than to conduct a medical evacuation due to a COVID-19 outbreak. There have been no medical evacuations for sailors since the Navy reached 100 percent vaccination among its operational units, Merz said.
Meanwhile, there have been several COVID-19 outbreaks on ships, but those have not seriously impacted operations, given the nature of the omicron variant and that sailors on these ships are vaccinated, Merz said.
Active duty sailors faced a Nov. 28 deadline to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while sailors in the Navy Reserve had until Dec. 28 to reach that status. The Navy first announced in October the formation of the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority to oversee the separation process for sailors who refused the jab.
The service anticipates the majority of separations will happen by June 1, although some cases are expected to continue past then. Even so, Navy leaders claim they want to retain as many sailors as possible.
“Let me be clear up front: We want every sailor to receive the vaccine and stay Navy,” Rear Adm. James Waters III, director of military personnel, plans and policy, told reporters in December. “And if a sailor gets their shot, we will honor that and make every effort to retain them.”
At least 17 sailors have died due to COVID-19 complications.