WASHINGTON (AP) — The Navy said Tuesday that it has discharged 23 active duty sailors for refusing the coronavirus vaccine, marking the first time it has thrown currently serving sailors out of the military over the mandatory shots. It comes as the number of service members being discharged across the services due to the vaccine begins to climb.
The Army is now the only service that has not yet discharged any active duty personnel due to vaccine refusal.
The Marine Corps, as of late last week, had discharged 334 Marines, and the Air Force, as of this week, had discharged 111 airmen for refusing to get the shots.
The military services have been going through a methodical process to deal with those who refuse the vaccine as well as those who request medical, administrative or religious exemptions. The reviews require counseling with medical personnel and chaplains as well as senior commanders.
The number of troops discharged will begin to grow exponentially as those reviews finish, and troops are given their final chances to get the vaccines. Lawsuits over the mandatory vaccine are also making their way through the courts.
The Air Force and Navy have also discharged entry level service members going through their boot camps, who hadn’t yet reported to their service jobs. There have been 22 Navy and 37 Air Force recruits who have been sent home.
All of the sailors received honorable discharges, the Navy said.
According to the Navy, a bit more than 5,000 sailors remain unvaccinated — or a little over 1% of the active duty force. About 6% of the Navy reserve sailors are not yet vaccinated. No reserve members have been discharged for vaccine refusal.
The Pentagon has ordered all service members — active duty, National Guard and Reserves — to get the vaccine, saying it is critical to maintaining the health and readiness of the force.
The latest discharges come as COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the country, as a result of the omicron variant.