US army tells troops to get vaccinated soon or face discipline up to possible dismissal

The army is the last branch of the US military to issue guidelines following the Pentagon's announcement last month that active-duty military personnel would be required to be vaccinated. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The US military's largest service branch has announced an extensive timeline for troops to get vaccinated against Covid-19, and what they can expect to happen if they do not.

US Army officials said on Tuesday (Sept 14) that all active-duty units are expected to be fully vaccinated by Dec 15, and Reserve and National Guard members by June 30.

Those who refuse to be vaccinated and have not been given an exemption will face suspension, according to the guidelines.

"While soldiers who refuse the vaccine will first be counselled by their chain of command and medical providers," the army guidelines say. "Continued failure to comply could result in administrative or non-judicial punishment - to include relief of duties or discharge from the service."

Since the Pentagon mandated Covid-19 vaccinations last month, the percentage of all military service members with at least one shot has risen to from 76 per cent to 83 per cent, according to Department of Defence data.

By comparison, of the general United States population, only 63 per cent have gotten at least one shot and 54 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.

The possible consequences for not complying in the army vary somewhat by role. Army commanders, command sergeants major, first sergeants and officers on track for future command assignments who refuse to be vaccinated and are not given an exemption face suspension and relief from duty.

Soldiers of all ranks who are not in command positions can receive a general order of reprimand, which may be removed from their file when they are next transferred or may be placed into their permanent file, affecting future assignments and promotions.

The army is the last branch of the military to issue guidelines following the Pentagon's announcement last month that active-duty military personnel would be required to be vaccinated.

The navy and air force have already informed their rank and file that the clock is ticking on their vaccinations.

All active-duty air force troops must be fully vaccinated by Nov 2, and Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members by Dec 2.

The directive has had immediate effect in the air force: 74.5 per cent of active-duty members have now had at least one vaccine shot, up from 65.2 per cent last month.

Active-duty sailors and Marines must be fully vaccinated within 90 days of Aug 30, while Navy Reserve service members have 120 days to comply.

Refusal without an approved exemption may result in administrative action, according to the navy plan.

All navy coronavirus deaths have been among troops who were not fully immunised; one was partially vaccinated.

Vaccination rates in the military already outpace much of the rest of the country, but commanders are seeking nearly total compliance, as the military does with many other vaccines, fearing that failure to get everyone inoculated would imperil readiness.

"This is quite literally a matter of life and death for our soldiers, their families and the communities in which we live," Lieutenant-General R. Scott Dingle, army surgeon general, said in a news release.

"Case counts and deaths continue to be concerning as the Delta variant spreads, which makes protecting the force through mandatory vaccination a health and readiness priority for the total army."

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