Hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members remain unvaccinated or, at best, only partially vaccinated against COVID-19.
The news comes six weeks before the Department of Defense’s Nov. 28 vaccination deadline.
The inability to have vaccinated a large portion of the Armed Forces’ 2.14 million personnel reportedly comes from inconstant orders across the six service branches and the political divide over FDA-approved vaccine mandates.
Yet President Biden’s directive remains in place, as The Washington Post reports:
For instance, 90 percent of the active-duty Navy is fully vaccinated, whereas just 72 percent of the Marine Corps is, the data show, even though both services share a Nov. 28 deadline. In the Air Force, more than 60,000 personnel have just three weeks to meet the Defense Department’s most ambitious deadline.
Deaths attributed to covid-19 have soared in parts of the force as some services struggle to inoculate their troops. In September, more military personnel died of coronavirus infections than in all of 2020. None of those who died were fully vaccinated, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Charlie Dietz said.
Military officials explain the variance in vaccination rates, in part, by pointing to the staggered deadlines each of the services set for personnel to comply while expressing optimism that, as those dates approach, numbers will quickly rise and a vast majority of troops will carry out their orders. Thousands of troops already have begun their two-shot regimens, like in the Navy, where 98 percent of active-duty sailors have received at least one dose, officials said.
But other services are not on such a steady path, and critics say the large gaps between vaccination deadlines jeopardize how ready the military can be in a moment of crisis. They point specifically to the reserves and National Guard, which over the last two years have been called upon in numerous emergencies – at home and overseas – and yet large numbers of their personnel have so far refused to get vaccinated.
Amid the debate, a group of GOP senators led by Roger Marshall (Kan.), Ted Cruz (Texas), James Lankford (Okla.) and Tommy Tuberville (Ala.) unveiled legislation that only gives honorable discharges to service members who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.