The U.S. Army reported Thursday that 97.9% of active-duty soldiers had received at least one dose of the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine following this week's deadline; however, the Associated Press reports that more than 3,800 soldiers have outright refused the vaccine and could face removal proceedings next month.
The Army has the second-highest vaccination rate, with fewer than 1,700 soldiers seeking religious exemptions. This number is quite low in comparison to the other three branches, with 3,000 in the Marine Corps, 4,700 in the Air Force, and 2,700 in the Navy seeking religious exemptions, according to the Associated Press report.
At this time, no religious exemptions have been granted. The Army has a policy of reviewing each exemption on a case-by-case basis to determine if the request is appropriate. Medical exemptions are reviewed by health care providers, while religious exemptions require that a soldier must be interviewed by a chaplain, as well as receive recommendations from the chain of command and undergo public health and legal review, according to a statement released by the Army Thursday.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin mandated that all service members be fully vaccinated earlier this year, following the FDA's approval of the vaccine. "Our administration of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines has produced admirable results to date, and I know the Department of Defense will come together to finish the job, with urgency, professionalism, and compassion," Austin wrote in a memo released in August.
The Pentagon has not yet decided if it will make booster shots mandatory for all service members, but is still evaluating the option, according to the Associated Press.
The Army announced Thursday that 468,459 active-duty soldiers had taken the vaccine, and those who have not will be removed from service beginning in January if they haven't received an exemption or don't have pending exemption status.
Army reports also indicate that commanders have relieved six active-duty leaders, including two battalion commanders, and have issued 2,767 general officer written reprimands to soldiers for refusing the vaccination order, according to a statement released by Army officials.
“Vaccinating our Soldiers against COVID-19 is first and foremost about Army readiness,” said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth in an official statement Thursday.
Vaccination rates for the other three branches of service also appear to be quite high, with the Navy at an over 98% vaccination rate and the Air Force's current rate totaling 97.5%. The Marine Corps has the lowest rate of vaccination at 95%, according to numbers given to the Associated Press.