The Navy separated 25 active duty sailors between Nov. 28 and Dec. 28 due to their failure to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the service told USNI News. Those sailors are likely the last sea service members to receive approved separations over COVID-19 vaccine refusal under the Pentagon’s prior vaccination mandate.
A provision in the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Joe Biden on Dec. 23, removed the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for active-duty service members.
Of the 25 active-duty sailors, one was an officer, while the other 24 were enlisted, Lt. Rachel Maul, a Navy spokesperson with the Chief of Naval Personnel, told USNI News. Approximately 2,100 sailors received approved separations in the year that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate was active.
It is unclear how many sailors had left the service by the time the Biden signed the NDAA and if those with approved separations that had not yet left service will still need to do so.
It also is unclear exactly how the Pentagon will roll out the end of the vaccine mandate and what that means for those who received approved separations. The language in the NDAA did not require the Department of Defense to reinstate service members who had been separated, but it encouraged the Pentagon to look to provide a way for those personnel to rejoin, USNI News previously reported.
Since Biden signed the NDAA into law, the Pentagon paused all actions in regard to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate while working to create additional guidance, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Thursday.
The Department of Defense has until Jan. 23 – 30 days from when Biden signed the NDAA – to release the new guidance, Ryder said. Once that guidance is released, individual service branches can then release their own guidelines for how they will implement the new DOD policies.
“I will say that we will continue to encourage all of our service members, civilian employees and our contractor personnel to get vaccinated and boosted to ensure the readiness of our force. And as we’ve said, as I’ve said, the health and readiness of our force will continue to be crucial to our ability to defend the nation,” Ryder told reporters.
One question yet to be answered is if service members who are not vaccinated will be considered operational or deployable. Under the vaccine mandate, those with an exemption or a pending one were considered non-deployable.
As of Thursday, the Navy’s COVID-19 update page was not active.