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Navy Separates 20 Sailors Over Refusal to Take COVID-19 Vaccine

Cmdr. Ronald Cappellini, Naval Air Station Sigonella executive officer, receives his COVID-19 vaccine booster from Lt. j.g. Aracely Duerkop, during a mass-immunization exercise on Naval Air Station Sigonella, Dec. 7, 2021. U.S. Navy Photo

The Navy has separated 20 sailors, all of whom were in their first 180 days of active duty, for continued refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The sailors are the first that the Navy has separated, the sea service announced Wednesday evening. No other active-duty sailors have been separated due to vaccine refusal, although the executive officer of USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81) was separated in December for failure to follow a lawful order. A Navy official told USNI News that the officer would not get vaccinated against or tested for COVID-19.

The 20 entry-level separations were done during initial training periods, according to the Navy’s COVID-19 update Wednesday.

More than 8,000 members of the Navy continue to be unvaccinated against the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, according to the update. There are 5,268 active-duty sailors and 2,980 reservists who are not considered fully vaccinated, which means they could be in the process of getting vaccinated, have an exemption or waiting for an exemption request to be adjudicated.

The Navy has granted eight permanent medical exemptions for active-duty sailors and none for the Navy Reserve. There are currently 242 active-duty temporary medical exemptions and nine reservist ones. There have also been 74 administrative exemptions granted for active-duty personnel and 31 for reservists.

Although reservists and active-duty sailors have requested religious exemptions — 3,009 active-duty requests and 691 Ready Reserve ones — the Navy has not granted a religious exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. The sea service has not granted a religious exemption for a vaccine in the past seven years, USNI News previously reported.

A federal judge ruled Monday that the Navy cannot punish members of the special warfare community who have continued to decline the COVID-19 vaccine. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday that the Department of Justice is still reviewing the judge’s injunction order.

The Navy is not the first branch to separate personnel for failing to get vaccinated. The Marine Corps separated 206 Marines, while the Air Force has separated 27 airmen.

There have been 57,396 cases of COVID-19 among sailors, including 17 deaths, as of Wednesday.

USS Milwaukee returned to sea Monday after it stopped at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while a portion of the sailors, all of whom were vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19.