Navy Seaman Valentine Anebere, a hospital corpsman assigned to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka Branch Health Clinic Sasebo, administers doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to an employee at Commander Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan, July 28, 2021.

Navy Seaman Valentine Anebere, a hospital corpsman assigned to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka Branch Health Clinic Sasebo, administers doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to an employee at Commander Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan, July 28, 2021. U.S. Navy / Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasmine Ikusebiala

US Navy Lists Consequences for Sailors Who Refuse COVID Vaccination

Refusers could be stripped of warfare qualifications, removed from their billet, or even dismissed from service.

Sailors who refuse to be vaccinated against the coronavirus could face the removal of their professional qualifications, relief from their position, and dismissal from the Navy, according to a new instruction issued by service leaders.

“Sailors must be prepared to execute their mission at all times, in places throughout the world, including where vaccination rates are low and disease transmission is high. Immunizations are of paramount importance to protecting the health of the force and the warfighting readiness of the Fleet,” said a Navy statement Thursday.

The Navy's administrative message released Wednesday, titled “NAVADMIN 225/21 COVID-19 Consolidated Disposition Authority (CCDA),” provides detailed guidance on how sailors who are not fully vaccinated and do not have a pending or approved exemption will be punished administratively.

Just days after the Pfizer vaccine gained full approval by the Food and Drug Administration in August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated that all service members be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

The vast majority of sailors have been partially or fully vaccinated. As of Wednesday, 94 percent of active-duty sailors are fully immunized and 99 percent have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Navy. The deadline for these sailors to be fully vaccinated is Nov. 28, meaning they must get their second dose by Nov. 14. The Ready Reserve sailors have until Dec. 28 to be fully vaccinated.

Still, some service members and other organizations have pushed back. In a statement Tuesday, Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy Broglio said Catholic troops should be allowed to refuse the vaccine, stating: “No one should be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it would violate the sanctity of his or her conscience,” Defense One first reported.

Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell has been designated as the "COVID consolidated disposition authority," or the official in charge of administrative separation processing of active-duty sailors, and the chief of Navy Reserve, Vice Adm. John Mustin, will oversee separations for Reserve sailors, according to the Navy statement. Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Lescher is still responsible for non-judicial punishment and courts-martial.

The Navy defines a sailor who refuses the vaccine as someone who has been given a lawful order to be fully vaccinated, is not or will not be vaccinated by their component’s deadline, and does not have a pending or approved exemption. Senior leaders, such as a flag officer or a sailor who is in a command or staff position, must begin vaccination immediately or they can be relieved and have detachment for cause started, according to the message. Their immediate supervisor or commander will notify them in writing that they have five calendar days to start the vaccination process or ask for an exemption.

“An unvaccinated senior leader without a pending or approved exemption calls into question the Navy’s trust and confidence regarding their ability to ensure unit readiness or to maintain good order and discipline,” the message states.

Sailors who refuse to be vaccinated will not be allowed to be promoted or advanced, reenlist, or execute orders other than separation orders until their case has been decided. Commanders also are authorized to temporarily reassign sailors who refuse the vaccine, regardless of their exemption status, based on operational readiness or mission requirements.

After the November or December deadline, sailors refusing to be vaccinated will begin to face administrative actions, starting with a report filed by their commander to the Navy Personnel Command. Sailors who are separated only for refusing the vaccine will receive a discharge no lower than a general under honorable conditions, according to the message.

Personnel from the other military services who are assigned to Navy commands and refuse the vaccine will also be reported to the CCDA, but it is unclear from the guidance what happens to their case next.

Sailors can have their professional qualifications removed by the CCDA, including warfare qualifications, Navy Enlisted Classifications, and other sub-specialties. Bonuses, incentive pay, and the cost of training and education can also be requested back from sailors refusing the vaccine.

While the Marine Corps is technically part of the Navy Department, this guidance only applies to sailors. According to their most recent guidance, “MARADMIN 533/21 Supplemental Guidance to Mandatory Covid-19 Vaccination Of Marine Corps Active And Reserve Components,” active-duty Marines must have their second dose by Nov. 14 and Reserve Marines by Dec. 14.

Unlike the Navy, Marine commanders can initiate adverse administrative or judicial proceedings when the Marine refuses the vaccine and does not ask for or receive an exemption, regardless of the deadline, according to the MARADMIN.

The Marine Corps will soon issue their own guidance on how Marines will be disciplined if they refuse the vaccine. 

“As the Service approaches established deadlines for completion, the Marine Corps is considering the release of more prescriptive guidance as it relates to enforcement of policy and disciplinary options for service members who refuse the vaccine without valid exemptions,” Capt. Andrew Wood, Marine Corps spokesperson, said in emailed statement Thursday.