U.S. Navy, Marine Corps Set Deadline For Mandatory COVID 19 Vaccinations

Military members stationed in South Carolina will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as early as November and could face serious consequences from their commanders or may even be court-martialed if they don't comply. 

As of this month, more than 1.1 million service members nationwide, or about 70 percent of all active-duty military, are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to Pentagon data.

But unvaccinated soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at Fort Jackson, Parris Island, Shaw Air Force Base, Joint Base Charleston and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort now face deadlines for receiving the shot.

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In South Carolina, the mandate affects the more than 60,000 Department of Defense active-duty and civilian contractors as well, who work or are connected to the state's military bases.

The Air Force is giving active-duty troops until Nov. 2 to get inoculated against COVID-19. Air Force reservists and National Guard members have until Dec. 2 to receive their vaccinations, per a memo from the branch.

This includes personnel with Space Force, which is a part of the Air Force.

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Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division mobilize on Joint Base Charleston on Aug. 14, 2021. Pfc. Vincent Levelev/U.S. Army

A Joint Base Charleston spokeswoman said officials are hosting frequent education events for their personnel to dispel misinformation about the vaccinations. Shots are available from the medical unit on site at anytime.

All active-duty Marines and Navy members must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 28; reservists by Dec. 28.

Additionally, recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island must arrive vaccinated or will be given the vaccine during boot camp.

Active-duty troops have until Dec. 15 to receive one of the vaccines authorized by either the Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. 

Soldiers in the National Guard have until June 30 to get vaccinated, which is about six months longer than reservists of any other military branch.

Fort Jackson in Columbia, the Army's largest training base, has mandated that families visiting for graduation ceremonies must be vaccinated, spokeswoman L.A. Sully said.

While the vaccine is available for trainees, it's not mandated yet. Until the branch issues guidance on what the requirements will be, an unvaccinated recruit can continue to progress through basic combat training.

"We haven't stopped giving vaccinations," Sully said. "And we're finding a lot of trainees are coming to Fort Jackson already vaccinated."

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Air Force personnel who refuse to get vaccinated and do not have an exemption "may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," a release from the Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said in a statement.

The same goes for the Marine Corps and the Navy. Additionally, unit and base commanders can also get involved and a "removal of qualification for advancement, promotions, reenlistment, or continuation" could occur, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said in a memo.

According to the Army, soldiers who refuse to receive the vaccine will face “administrative or non-judicial punishment," which could include "relief of duties or discharge.”

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A crew fuels a Shaw Air Force Base F-16 Viper during training at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort in June 2021. File/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Ingold/U.S. Air Force

All of the services have a way to apply for exemptions but only based on medical needs such as pre-existing health conditions or religious objections.

“Prior to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, service members have access to healthcare providers and chaplains to address questions or concerns with COVID-19 vaccination,” the Air Force said in a release. “Additionally, commanders must consult with their servicing Staff Judge Advocate for additional guidance on vaccination non-compliance.”

As COVID-19 issues such as masking, social distancing and vaccinations become highly politicized, some Republicans have spoken out about the requirement as being an overreach of President Joe Biden's administration. 

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., said in a statement that the Pentagon shouldn't mandate the vaccination and that “wearing our country’s uniform does not mean our service members sign away the right to make personal medical decisions."

The military, however, has a long history of vaccinating service members. 

In 1776, nearly half of the Continental Army soldiers in Canada became ill with smallpox. The next year, Commander in Chief George Washington ordered mandatory inoculations.

After years of medical advancement, the Department of Defense can now administer up to 17 different vaccines to stop infectious diseases among the ranks, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. 

South Carolina's Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has been an outspoken critic of Biden's COVID-19 protocol, specifically a Sept. 9 mandate where all employers with more than 100 workers be required to ensure all their staff is vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. 

While McMaster said he would fight that new rule "to the gates of hell," he has no recourse to fight the Pentagon's mandate for South Carolina's military bases.

McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes told The Post and Courier the governor "disagrees" with the Pentagon's decision, but he respects Biden's constitutional authority over the military.

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More management difficulties will likely arrive as the deadlines approach, but the Pentagon said officials believe service members will ultimately follow orders and military leaders will work to show service members it is in the best protection of the country to get vaccinated.

"The secretary has communicated to the military departments to execute this mandatory vaccination program with, obviously, skill and professionalism, which we always do, but also with a measure of compassion," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters last month.

Source : https://www.postandcourier.com/militarydigest/sc-military-bases-have-set-deadlines-for-service-members-to-receive-a-covid-19-vaccine/article_57d1991e-149f-11ec-b8f4-234506eb02a8.html

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