WASHINGTON – With COVID-19 vaccines now mandatory for all military members, the Navy has announced plans to start processing for discharge those who refuse vaccination without a pending or approved exemption.
The Navy’s mandate began at the end of August after the release of the Secretary of Defense memo instructing military departments to enact the new vaccination requirement for DoD uniformed personnel who are not medically or administratively exempt. With the release of ALNAV 062/21 and NAVADMIN 190/21, all service members were given 90 days to comply.
Now, NAVADMIN 225/21, released Oct. 13, sets a deadline for all active-duty Sailors to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28, while those in the selected reserve have until Dec. 28. The message also outlines the consequences for failing to comply.
This deadline makes Nov. 14 and Dec. 14 the final days active and selected reserve, respectively, can receive the second of the two required shots for a two-dose vaccine or the single dose of a one-dose vaccine, and complete the 14-day waiting period required to achieve full vaccination.
Sailors must be prepared to execute their mission at all times, in places throughout the world, including where vaccination rates are low and disease transmission is high. Immunizations are of paramount importance to protecting the health of the force and the warfighting readiness of the Fleet.
“To date, over 98 percent of active-duty U.S. Navy service members have met our readiness responsibility by completing or initiating a COVID-19 vaccination series, ensuring the continued readiness of our worldwide deployable Navy” said Adm. William Lescher, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, in the message.
The Navy’s policy goal is to achieve a fully vaccinated force against the persistent and lethal threat of COVID-19.
“Tragically, there have been 164 deaths within the Navy family due to COVID-19, far exceeding the combined total of all other health or mishap related injuries and deaths over the same time period,” wrote Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, Jr., the Chief of Naval Personnel. Of those, he noted, 144 were not immunized. The vaccination status of the remaining 20 remains undetermined.
To oversee the administrative discharge process for those refusing the vaccine, the Navy established the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority (CCDA). This, Lescher wrote, will “ensure a fair and consistent process” for separation determinations.
The Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP) is the CCDA for the administrative separation processing of Navy service members, with the Chief of Navy Reserve (CNR) providing support to the CCDA for cases involving Navy service members in the Selected Reserve. The Vice Chief of Naval Operations retains authority for non-judicial punishment and courts-martial.
Administrative actions may begin as soon as a Navy service member meets the definition of “refusing the vaccine”, which is a Navy service member who received a lawful order to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is not or will not be fully vaccinated on the date required by the order, and does not have a pending or approved exemption request.
Effective immediately upon the release of the message, commands shall not allow Sailors refusing the vaccine to promote or advance, reenlist, or execute orders, with the exception of separation orders, until the CCDA has completed disposition of their case. Transfer orders may be cancelled by Navy Personnel Command.
For officers and enlisted serving in Navy leadership roles refusing the vaccine, they will be notified immediately in writing that they have five days to either begin a vaccination series or request an exemption before being relieved and have detachment for cause initiated.
Senior leaders are members of command triads and those key staff positions, including any flag officer or flag officer select, regardless of their current billet. A complete list of these positions is found in the message.
With COVID-19 vaccination now mandatory, commanders, commanding officers, or officers in charge, with the concurrence of the first flag officer in the chain of command, are authorized to temporarily reassign Navy service members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of exemption status, based on operational readiness or mission requirements.
Commanding officers must identify those refusing the vaccine and verify that the Sailors have an initial counseling NAVPERS 1070/13, or “Page 13”. Within thirty days of a Navy service member refusing the vaccine, reporting seniors must submit a special evaluation or fitness report. In addition to documenting failure to comply with individual medical readiness responsibilities, the report shall document other facts as appropriate, including any misconduct related to UCMJ Art. 92.
Commands are required to report Sailors refusing the vaccine to Commander, Navy Personnel Command. Rules differ depending on whether the member is an E-6 and above or officer, or an E-5 and below. Information on reporting procedures for each, along with points of contact, are available in the NAVADMIN.
For Navy service members refusing the vaccine, the CCDA also retains the authority for administrative processes regarding removal of warfare qualifications, additional qualification designations (AQD), Navy Enlisted Classifications (NEC), or sub-specialties, except in cases where removal authority is otherwise authorized by law or Executive Order. The CCDA may also seek recoupment of applicable bonuses, special and incentive pays, and the cost of training and education for service members refusing the vaccine.
Those separated only for vaccine refusal will receive no lower than a general discharge under honorable conditions. This type of discharge could result in the loss of some veterans’ benefits.
Navy service members who started terminal leave on or before the applicable deadlines are administratively exempted from vaccine requirements.
Sailors seeking an exemption to the vaccine mandate can apply for medical reasons or a religious accommodation. Details on how to apply for each are available in NAVADMIN 190/21.
Complete information on the administrative ramifications of vaccine refusal can be found in NAVADMIN 225/21. Information on the Navy’s COVID-19 policy is in ALNAV 062/21 and NAVADMIN 190/21.