Army: ‘Relief of duties, discharge’ possible for those who refuse COVID-19 vaccine

The U.S. Army announced Tuesday a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for soldiers was being implemented, and warned that members who refuse could be subject to "relief of duties" or "discharge."

The Army began implementing the secretary of defense’s order last month, following full approval of Pfizer’s two-dose shot by the Food and Drug Administration. Before then, COVID-19 vaccines had been optional.

Active-duty units are now expected to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15, 2021, and reserve and National Guard units are expected to be fully vaccinated by June 30, 2022.

Soldiers may request administrative or medical exemptions.

Soldiers who refuse the vaccine without an exemption could face administrative or non-judicial punishment – to include relief of duties or discharge, a release from the Army stated. They will first be counseled by their chain of command and medical providers. 

Additionally, commanders, command sergeants major, first sergeants and officers in Command Select List (CSL) positions who refuse to be vaccinated and are not pending an exemption request face suspension and relief if they refuse to comply.

The Pentagon has said that the military has enough vaccines to meet the requirements.

In a message to the force earlier this month, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Department of Defense’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said medical professionals recommend the vaccine and that getting the shot is key to maintaining a military that is prepared to defend the nation. At the bottom of his message, Milley scrawled a handwritten note: "Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a key force protection and readiness issue."

As of Sept. 8, more than 1.1 million service members were fully vaccinated and nearly 297,000 more had received at least one shot, according to the Defense Department. Nearly 54% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated with one of the country’s three options, from Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Moderna has also applied to the FDA for full approval of its vaccine. J&J said it hopes to do so later this year.

This is a developing story.