(WASHINGTON) — One hundred three Marines have been discharged for refusing to take the COVID vaccine, the Marine Corps said Thursday, as the military services have begun to discharge a pool of possibly as many as 30,000 active duty service members who still refuse to be vaccinated — even after multiple opportunities to do so past vaccination deadlines.
In late August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered mandatory COVID vaccines for all U.S. military personnel.
Shortly after Austin made the COVID vaccine mandatory, the military services quickly set up its own deadline dates and warned service members that they could face discharge unless they were vaccinated, which is in line with the Pentagon’s stance that choosing to remain unvaccinated is a violation of a lawful order from Austin.
While the percentage of vaccinated active duty personnel in each service is at 95% or higher, the number of unvaccinated personnel is close to 30,000.
Earlier this week, the Air Force became the first to make public that it had followed through on the warning, announcing that 27 airmen had received administrative discharges.
According to the latest numbers provided by the Air Force and the Navy, 7,365 airmen and 5,472 sailors are unvaccinated, either refusing the vaccine outright or awaiting the processing of requests for administrative, medical, or religious exemptions.
The Marine Corps said Thursday that 95% of its active-duty force of 182,500 Marines had received at least one COVID vaccine shot, the lowest percentage among the military services. The Marine Corps has approved 1,007 medical and administrative exemptions and is still processing 2,863 of the 3,144 requests made for a religious exemption.
Military personnel serving in the United States had already been required to receive 12 vaccines, including those for measles, polio, anthrax, chickenpox and flu, in order to serve. Service members assigned overseas were required to receive up to five others, like those for yellow fever or encephalitis, depending on which global region they are assigned to.
While the Army announced Thursday that nearly 98% of its 478,000 active-duty soldiers had been vaccinated, that means close to 10,000 soldiers are not.
The Army said 3,864 soldiers have refused the vaccine outright while an additional 6,263 are awaiting the processing of their requests for an exemption.
The majority of service members who remain unvaccinated have sought religious exemptions, but none of the services has yet to approve an exemption on religious grounds.
The defense authorization bill passed by Congress this week guarantees that service members who are kicked out of the military for refusing the vaccine will receive either an honorable discharge or a “general discharge under honorable conditions.”
Unlike the other services, the Army has decided that it will not discharge soldiers who refuse to be vaccinated. Instead, they will be “flagged,” cannot be promoted and will have to leave the Army when their enlistment contracts expire.
Flagged soldiers who have refused to get the vaccine will have to submit to regular COVID testing, Lt. Col. Terence Kelley, an Army spokesman told ABC News.
A soldier reporting daily to the same job location will be tested weekly, while those who are teleworking and have to visit their job location will be tested within 72 hours of the meeting or job activity, Kelley said.
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