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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Navy kicks out 45 sailors for refusing COVID vaccine

Service members on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. About 5,000 active-duty sailors and 3,000 reservists remain unvaccinated.

By John ISmay

The Navy has kicked out 45 sailors for refusing the COVID vaccine, marking the first dismissals of Navy personnel since the deadline for active-duty sailors to be vaccinated expired Nov. 28.

All of the sailors were given either honorable or entry-level discharges for disobeying a lawful order obligating them to receive the vaccine. Nearly half of them were within their first six months of service.

The Navy announced the news in a message sent to reporters Wednesday afternoon, noting that 5,035 active-duty sailors and 2,960 reservists remain unvaccinated.

All military service members were required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 under a policy issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Aug. 24.

Since then, about 97% of active-duty members have had at least one shot; nearly 92% of the 2.1 million people who make up the total force are now fully vaccinated.

Last month, the U.S. Air Force dismissed 27 service members for refusing to get the COVID vaccine. Each service branch has a different deadline for shots, and the Air Force was the first to hit the deadline. The 27 — all with less than six years of service — were the first believed to have been fired, Pentagon officials said.

The Navy said more than 3,200 active-duty sailors have requested exemptions from the vaccination requirement on religious grounds, although none of those requests have yet been granted.

A group of 35 sailors, 26 of whom are members of the SEALs, sued President Joe Biden in a federal court in Texas on Nov. 9, claiming that the Pentagon’s vaccine requirement infringed on their religious liberties. On Jan. 3, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor granted a preliminary injunction in the case, temporarily preventing the Department of Defense from taking disciplinary action against those sailors.

According to Navy records, more than 128,000 Navy Department personnel, including service members and their family members as well as civilian employees and contractors, have contracted the coronavirus, leading to 187 deaths. Of those, 17 were active-duty or reserve sailors.

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