The Army has not started kicking soldiers out of the service for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but that hasn’t stopped them from issuing punishments to 3,000 of them in the meantime.
The Army said in a press release on Wednesday that 6 leaders have been relieved of command and 2,994 soldiers have received written reprimands for refusing the vaccine. Of the active-duty force, which had a vaccination deadline of Dec. 15, 96% are fully vaccinated. The Army Reserve and Army National Guard are another story entirely, in part due to their vaccination deadline being the end of June — months behind the active Army. Currently, 73% of the Army Reserve is fully vaccinated, while 67% of the Army National Guard is fully vaccinated.
Nearly 3,000 soldiers were given general officer memorandums of reprimand, or GOMORs, which are considered career-ending if made a permanent part of a soldier’s file. It’s ultimately up to a soldier’s commander, however, if that GOMOR is permanently filed or filed locally, which means that it is removed after either three years or a change of duty stations, and is not seen by promotion boards.
Mandatory separations for the Army are expected to begin this month according to Wednesday’s release. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps and Air Force began discharging troops last month, and the Navy kicked out its first group of sailors last week.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth warned last month that the service would eventually separate soldiers who aren’t pending decisions on a medical or administrative exemption request.
“To those who continue to refuse the vaccine and are not pending a final decision on a medical or administrative exemption, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine,” Wormuth said. “If not, we will begin involuntary separation proceedings.”
Over 2,000 soldiers have made requests for religious exemptions to the vaccine, and over 600 medical exemption requests have been made. Five soldiers have received medical exemptions, and zero have received religious exemptions. In fact, two Marines on Thursday became the first service members to receive religious exemptions.
The military had been in a battle for months to spread awareness and information about the COVID vaccine — now one of more than a dozen mandatory vaccinations for service members — before it was mandated to the force in August. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said then that commanders “have a range of tools” at their disposal, before getting the Uniform Code of Military Justice, “to help individuals make the right decisions about vaccines.”
And in many cases, that includes simply putting out more information about the vaccine to combat misinformation. In July, three Army doctors went on a podcast with the 18th Airborne Corps to do just that and help dissuade myths about the vaccine — like that it causes erectile dysfunction or infertility, can change someone’s DNA, or put a pregnancy at risk.
One expert on the podcast, Dr. Sammy Choi, the chief of research at Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center, pointed out that many people are expecting things from the COVID-19 vaccine that they don’t from other vaccines and are holding it to a higher standard.
“It seems like you want assurance that there will never be a side-effect, that there will never be a breakthrough case, and number three that it’s lasting immunity, you’ll never need a booster,” Choi recalled telling a family member about the vaccine. “And yet if we applied that same criteria for any other vaccine, we would have never — women would not get a highly-effective virus vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, human papilloma virus vaccine, HPV, we wouldn’t get the chickenpox vaccine … we would not do any of that.”