The Navy has announced the formation of a COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority to separate sailors who refuse to comply with the mandatory vaccination policy.
Active-duty sailors must receive their final dose of the vaccine by Nov. 14 — and those in the Navy Reserve by Dec. 14 — in order to meet the deadlines for fully vaccinated status, which are Nov. 28 and Dec. 28, respectively. The shot deadlines provide a two-week buffer for sailors to become fully immunized against COVID-19.
“In order to maximize readiness, it is the policy goal of the U.S. Navy to achieve a fully vaccinated force against the persistent and lethal threat of COVID-19,” a naval administrative message released Tuesday states.
For those who don’t comply, the Navy is standing up the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority to “ensure a fair and consistent process” handling separation determinations, and has tapped Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr. and Chief of Naval Reserve Vice Adm. John Mustin to head the effort.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Lescher is in charge of nonjudicial punishment and courts-martial.
“Commands shall not allow those refusing the vaccine to promote/advance, reenlist, or execute orders, with the exception of separation orders, until the CCDA has completed disposition of their case,” the NAVADMIN said. “Transfer orders may be cancelled by Navy Personnel Command.”
Commanding officers have been tasked with tracking those who deny the vaccine and will confirm that those sailors have had an initial counseling, or “Page 13.”
Reporting seniors also must submit a special evaluation or fitness report no later than 30 days after a sailor rejects the vaccine to document circumstances of the rejection and other misconduct information related to the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 92, that is, failure to comply with a regulation, the guidance said.
Administrative actions against sailors who deny the COVID-19 vaccine or won’t be fully vaccinated by the deadline may commence immediately if the sailor doesn’t already have a pending or approved exemption request.
Sailors could receive as low as a general discharge under honorable conditions if they are separated only for their vaccine refusal. A Navy news release on the guidance notes that this potentially causes the sailor to become disqualified from some veteran benefits.
Sailors may apply for an exemption from the vaccine on medical or religious grounds.
The Navy says 94 percent of active-duty sailors and 89 percent of the total force are fully vaccinated, while 99 percent of active-duty sailors and 94 percent of the total force have received at least one COVID-19 shot, according to figures released Oct. 13.
More than 65 service members across all branches have died due to complications from COVID-19, according to Pentagon data, with at least 14 of those from the Navy. That number grows to nearly 165 when factoring in Navy civilians, dependents and contractors.
“Tragically, there have been 164 deaths within the Navy family due to COVID-19, far exceeding the combined total of all other health or mishap related injuries and deaths over the same time period,” the NAVADMIN said. “144 of these were not immunized and 20 had an undisclosed immunization status.”
Service leaders have voiced strong support for the vaccine, noting that the vaccine is imperative to protect the force and paves the way for normalcy.
“We would not send our folks into combat without flak and Kevlar,” Navy Surgeon General Rear Adm. Bruce Gillingham said at a panel at the the Sea Air Space symposium in August. “The enemy this time is a virus, and we have a biological body armor for them to take and use to protect them … this is biologic body armor. Put it on, be protected.”