Hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members remain unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated against coronavirus as the deadline to get the shot approaches.
Vaccination rates vary between military branches, according to data collected by the Washington Post, where 98 percent of the active fleet is fully vaccinated.
There are nearly 340,000 such employees, with the two percent who have not been stabbed representing close to 7,000 people.
Meanwhile, only 72 percent of the 181,000 active Marine Corps employees have been vaccinated – meaning close to 51,000 have not yet been vaccinated.
Both branches must be fully vaccinated by 28 November under the Ministry of Defense’s August mandate.
Figures show that 81 percent of Army members are fully vaccinated. This division of the military has 485,000 members, of which the 19 percent who remain unvaccinated represent just over 95,000 employees.
And more than 60,000 people in the Air Force have only three weeks to meet their deadline to be fully vaccinated.
However, the rate is worse for members of the Army National Guard and Army Reserves – who have until June to meet the vaccination requirement.
Military officials said rates have varied due to the staggering deadlines and have expressed hope that vaccination rates will increase as deadlines approach.
Hundreds of thousands of service members remain unvaccinated or partially vaccinated despite deadlines for doing so. Here, First Class Sergeant Demetrius Roberson administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a soldier on September 9, 2021 in Fort Knox, Kentucky
Since the pandemic began, about a quarter of a million service members have been infected with the virus, and more than 2,000 were killed, with a major outbreak last year aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt that showed how quickly the virus could spread to dense neighborhoods.
The eruption served as a wake-up call as the ship was put on the sidelines for two months after about 1,100 crew members became infected and a soldier died.
In August, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that he was seeking the approval of President Joe Biden to order all service members to be vaccinated against the virus. which the President later approved.
He said at the time in a statement that he strongly supports Austin’s decision, noting that the plan would add the COVID vaccine ‘to the list of required vaccinations for our service members by mid-September,’ according to the Associated Press.
Biden added that the country is still at war and ‘being vaccinated will enable our service members to stay healthy, better protect their families and ensure that our force is ready to operate anywhere in the world.’
Under the plan, all 2.1 million troops were to be vaccinated against COVID, and exceptions to the rule would be rare.
Those who would refuse a COVID shot would be punished.
Since then, the Washington Post has reported that the military’s vaccination rate has risen sharply, with a 292 percent increase in the number of employees who began a vaccine regime in the Marine Corps.
Vaccination rates are different from military branches
Some are still hesitant, even though military members receive 17 mandatory vaccines when they enlist.
“Army policy encourages inaction until the latest possible date,” said Katherine Kuzminski, a military expert at the Center for New American Security, as the plans require the Army Reserve and National Guard to be fully vaccinated eight months from now.
‘The way we’ve seen the virus develop tells us we need to take a closer look at June 30,’ she said.
The Army National Guard and Reserve includes about 522,000 soldiers, according to the Post – about a quarter of the entire military, but nearly 40 percent are fully vaccinated.
The two branches also account for nearly 40 percent of the 62 service members’ deaths due to coronavirus.
Members of the two branches are typically older than their active guards and their civilian jobs or mobilizations may expose them to COVID more often than full-time troops living and working in isolated barracks.
The army. however, defended the June deadline in Washington Post history, saying the date reflects the size of the reserves relative to other services and military reserve components, as well as the constraints imposed by members’ geographical spread.
Due to the pandemic, it has been more difficult for members of the reserves to meet in person and review their records.
About half of them do not live near military health clinics that administer the vaccine, the army said, and it has instructed soldiers in how to upload documents showing they received shots from non-military providers.
“We expect all unvaccinated soldiers to receive the vaccine as soon as possible,” Lieutenant Colonel Terence M. Kelley, a spokesman for the Army, said in a statement. ‘Individual soldiers must receive the vaccine when available.’
He also noted that the June deadline ‘allows spare component units time needed to update records and process exemption requests.’
But Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat sitting on the House Armed Services Committee, said the reserve deadline was ‘alarming’ and could negatively affect the service’s ability to mobilize troops between now and next summer.
They have been deployed more than any other time since World War II in 2020, amid political unrest, wildfires and the coronavirus pandemic.
In response, however, the Army said that soldiers from guard or reserve mobilized by federal orders after December 15 – when the Army must be fully vaccinated – must be immunized when they leave their home station.
The move may delay the movement of personnel who have not yet started their vaccine regiment.
The military has previously been hit by setbacks for its vaccine mandates, with about 16 percent of pilots and crew members in Air Force reserve units either seeking a transfer to another unit to delay anthrax vaccine regiments in the 1990s, switching to inactive status or leaving service altogether.
Now, the Post Office says, defense officials are reluctant to predict how many soldiers would defy the mandate, even though Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas tweeted last month that he expects it to be a lot.
‘Question to SECDEF: Are you really filling up to allow a huge emigration of experienced service members just because they will not take the vaccine,’ he wrote.
‘Honestly, Americans deserve to know how you plan to deal with this blow to force preparedness – it’s already causing serious problems.’
Some Air Force officers have already joined other government workers in lawsuits to stop the claims, Posten reports.
Meanwhile, 65.3 percent of all Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, according to CDC data, and 56.4 percent are fully vaccinated.