The U.S. Army announced on Wednesday that it will begin “involuntary separation procedures” for all troops who have had ample opportunity to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and have refused, barring medical exemptions. The new policy of get the shot or get out is “effective immediately.”
The Associated Press notes the move could affect as many as 3,300 soldiers, many of whom have already been issued letters of reprimand for refusing to get the jab. The Army is one of the last branches of the armed services to take this step, as the Air Force, Navy, and Marines have already discharged active duty and entry-level troops for refusing to get the shot.
While this will certainly be interpreted as a controversial or draconian decision by so-called freedom lovers across the country, it’s actually long overdue. Every branch of the service issues mandatory vaccines to its members depending on assignment, posting, and job, innoculating troops against everything from smallpox to anthrax. These are not, for the most part, voluntary.
According to the AP, roughly 97 percent of all Army service members have at least one shot, although more than 3,000 have requested exemptions on medical or religious grounds. Such exemptions aren’t easy to come by. The military’s health system says that medical vaccine exemptions are only given on a short-term basis in the case of acute illness, on a permanent basis only in the case of a documented bad reaction to a vaccine. They can be revoked “based on changes in infection risk, immunization options, or other changes that impact risk-benefit decisions.” In other words, some dedicated anti-vaxxers may hold off on getting the jab and keep their jobs for a short time, but once the slow bureaucracy of the military catches up, they’ll likely have to take the shot or be shown the door.
The AP notes that nearly 600 service members have been discharged for failing to get the shot. The Army’s order says that their discharge will be given an “honorable or general” characterization of service, unless “other misconduct” warrants an “other than honorable” characterization, which is the most severe form of administrative discharge. However, those who are eligible to retire or transition to retirement before July 1, 2022, will be given the chance to do so.