Cmdr. Jeremiah Anderson, left, receives the first COVID-19 vaccine dose administered during a vaccination event held onboard Washington Navy Yard in April 2021.

Cmdr. Jeremiah Anderson, left, receives the first COVID-19 vaccine dose administered during a vaccination event held onboard Washington Navy Yard in April 2021. U.S. Navy / Elizabeth Kearns

Thousands of Sailors, Marines Remain Unvaccinated After Deadline

Navy lowers its official vaccination rate after discovering data discrepancies.

Thousands of active duty sailors and Marines remain unvaccinated following Sunday’s deadline, putting their military careers, and their health, at risk as a new variant raises global concern.

The Navy and Marine Corps are the second and third service to reach their vaccine mandate deadline for active-duty personnel since Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed the services on Aug. 24 to fully immunize their personnel. The Air Force deadline was Nov. 2; active duty soldiers have until Dec. 15 to be fully vaccinated.

As of Monday, 92 percent of Marines are fully vaccinated and 95 percent have at least one shot, leaving about 9,000 people without any vaccine immunity. The numbers for the Navy are 96.3 percent fully vaxxed, 97.2 percent partially vaxxed, leaving about 9,500 sailors with no vaccine immunity.

Meanwhile, the Navy has lowered its official vaccination rate after discovering errors in their data. On Nov. 24, officials reported a fully-vaxxed rate of 97 percent and a partially vaccinated rate of 99.8 percent. 

“A recent review of the vaccination reporting and tracking system revealed discrepancies in the data and were appropriately corrected. Discrepancies included total force numbers and redundant entries. We strive to provide the most accurate and timely information to maintain transparency regarding the Navy’s effort to fight COVID-19,” Lt. Devin Arneson, a Navy spokeswoman, said in an email.

Sailors and Marines are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The unvaccinated in the Marine Corps and Navy include those who have medical or administrative exemptions, are pending a religious accommodation adjudication or those who have not put their vaccination data into the records database due to inprocessing or some other reason.

Now that the Nov. 28 deadline has passed, the various Navy commands may begin preparing separation paperwork for unvaccinated sailors. Because of the various scenarios that personnel face with their vaccination status, from partially vaccinated to having their exemption request denied or expire, the services will need to address each one individually.

“We will be addressing each case on a case-by-case basis,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said Nov. 17. “We're just not going to all kick them out on the day of the deadline itself.”

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Service members who refuse to get fully vaccinated or to secure an official exemption will generally see their careers come to an end; they cannot be promoted, reenlist, or take a leadership role. 

Sailors and Marines have been able to ask for exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine like they can for other mandated vaccines. The Marine Corps has approved 14 permanent medical exemptions, 316 temporary medical exemptions, and 452 temporary administrative exemptions.

The Navy has approved seven permanent medical exemptions, 400 temporary medical exemptions, and 134 administrative exemptions. The Navy has six pending medical exemption requests.

Religious accommodations request follows a process, starting with a chaplain interview and working its way to a final approval authority for adjudication. The Navy department “does not normally grant religious accommodations for vaccinations,” the Marine Corps said in a statement. and that holds true in the data for the COVID-19 vaccine. 

As of Monday, 2,441 Marines and 2,531 sailors had requested religious accommodation requests; zero have been approved. The Marine Corps is still processing around 540 accommodation requests.

Starting Monday, unvaccinated sailors, including those with exemptions, will be tested weekly if they work in Defense Department facilities, according to a Navy administrative message. Those who work remotely or come to work less than weekly will not need to be tested. However, they will need to show a negative test within 72 hours of coming to work at a facility.

The Navy also announced Monday that a 47-year-old reserve sailor, Electronics Technician First Class William Mathews, had died of complications from COVID-19 on Nov. 24. Mathews is the 16th sailor known to have died from the virus. Across the military, 75 service members have died from the virus as of Nov. 24 and more than 253,000 have been infected.

The newest variant of concern, called Omicron, was first discovered in South Africa and cases have been found in Europe, Canada, and Australia. While the variant has not yet been found in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that it was only a matter of time.

"We all know when you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here. The question is, will we be prepared for it?,” Fauci said Sunday during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Fauci said the best way to prepare is to get more people vaccinated and those who are already vaccinated a booster shot.

It’s still unclear whether the Omicron is more transmissible, if it causes more severe disease, or how well the current coronavirus vaccines protect against the new variant.