SAN DIEGO – The Navy will no longer consider COVID-19 vaccination status when making decisions about sailor deployments – a reversal of more than a year of service policy, according to new Navy guidance released this week.
COVID-19 vaccination status cannot be considered when determining if someone can be deployed, according to the new standardized guidance for COVID-19, released as a NAVADMIN in response to a Congressional action that removed the requirement as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
“Commanders should seek advice from medical providers regarding medical readiness of personnel to inform deployment and other operational mission decisions,” according to NAVADMIN 38/23. “COVID-19 vaccination status shall not be a consideration in assessing individual service member suitability for deployment or other operational missions.”
The new guidance is consistent with that from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday told reporters Thursday at West 2023, hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA.
“I would tell you that we will continue to monitor very closely our fleet concentration areas with respect to COVID levels… particularly if there’s a new strain of COVID, we want to make sure that we have enough of the supplies on board like masks and those kinds of things that if we have to revert back to the way we’re doing things before the vaccine,” Gilday said.
The guidance also makes it so there is no distinction between sailors who are vaccinated and non-vaccinated. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said that a repeal of the mandate would create two classes of sailors, those who were vaccinated and those who were not.
Risks to the mission and individual sailors should be considered, according to the NAVADMIN, which includes a link to a matrix meant to help determine risk.
“Commanders at all levels are directed to balance operational employment with the health and safety of their units in accordance with current USD (P&R) Force Health Protection Guidance,” according to the NAVADMIN.
However, sailors who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 may have liberty restricted in countries that have COVID-19 restrictions.
“If required by the host nation, the [Geographic Navy Component Commanders] may authorize Commanders to include on the NAVMED 6210/3 or on a separate U.S. generated document accompanying the NAVMED 6210/3 (e.g., Command Letterhead) that their unit is 100% vaccinated, those disembarking have tested negative within the required timeframe, or that those disembarking have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster,” according to the NAVADMIN.
Commanders do need to comply with domestic and foreign quarantine requirements, per the NAVADMIN.
“Absent GNCC approval in advance, Commanders will not submit to host nation COVID-19 testing nor provide individual or collective medical data, copies of health records, nor any supplementary or locally-demanded health forms, and shall not grant access to ship or crew health records or allow the same to be searched or inspected by host nations,” according to the NAVADMIN.
The NAVADMIN does not include guidance on reinstating sailors separated from the Navy who refused COVID-19 vaccinations during the mandate.
The message also does not say when sailors who were assigned to shore duty while considered non-operational or deployable will be reassigned.
While commanders are still required to report any evacuations, hospitalizations or deaths due to infectious diseases, they are no longer required to report individual COVID-19 cases.