More than 60,000 Army National Guard and Reservist troops have been barred from service and had their pay suspended for refusing to get vaccinated for COVID-19 by the deadline on Thursday, according to the New York Post.
The soldiers cannot participate in training while they are cut off, although they have not been discharged at this point. They could face future discharge or separation for continued refusal to be vaccinated.
About 13% of Guardsman and 12% of Reservists are still unvaccinated. Those with pending exemption requests can still participate in training and get their pay and benefits, but very few exemptions have been approved.
Only six of 53 medical exemptions were granted and none of the 3,000 religious exemptions were granted.
“Soldiers who refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to service, and official reprimands,” an Army spokesperson said in a statement.
The Guard and Reserves had the latest deadline of all the armed forces to get vaccinated, the Post said.
At a time when the Guard is struggling to get people to sign up to serve, the loss of personnel in these numbers is troubling.
Separations and discharges of 62,000 would be far greater than the 1,148 Army active-duty soldiers released so far for refusing to get vaccinated, but many Guard and Reserves troops have other full-time jobs and may not feel the same pressure to submit to vaccination.
Leaders are hoping many of the soldiers will change their minds and be vaccinated before they are separated from their positions.
“We’re going to give every soldier every opportunity to get vaccinated and continue their military career,” Director of the Army Guard, Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, said in a statement. “We’re not giving up on anybody until the separation paperwork is signed and completed.”
Last year when the Army soldiers were making their decisions, the vaccine was thought to be more effective at preventing infection and complications from COVID-19. With what we know now about variants and transmission, however, there is no valid reason to require vaccination.
The risk of death or serious complications has dropped dramatically since last year, but if the military changes the rules for these last two branches, it will look like they are capitulating to public pressure or giving special favors.
So even though it’s utterly nonsensical, they will have to hold these soldiers to the same requirements as others to avoid an uproar.