Sailors unvaccinated against COVID-19 may deploy again under a new policy rescinding requirements that sailors assigned to operational units be fully vaccinated against the virus.

The Navy’s guidance comes roughly a month after the service announced it would halt separating sailors who refused the COVID-19 vaccine, in accordance with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s instruction in January overturning his 2021 COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Even so, unvaccinated troops were still barred from certain assignments and deployments.

But now, vaccination status will not be a factor when considering sailors for deployments or operational missions, according to a new naval administrative message.

“Under no circumstances shall a Commander mandate that any Navy Service member receive the COVID-19 vaccination,” the new NAVADMIN said.

“Commanders should seek advice from medical providers regarding medical readiness of personnel to inform deployment and other operational mission decisions,” the NAVADMIN said. “COVID-19 vaccination status shall not be a consideration in assessing individual service member suitability for deployment or other operational missions.”

The new guidance does place some limitations on sailors during port visits, though, due to host nation policies. It instructs combatant commanders to coordinate with country teams and local authorities to determine restrictions that could “create conditions-based criteria for liberty.”

Speaking to reporters at the West naval conference in San Diego Thursday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the Navy will continue to monitor COVID levels around fleet concentration areas going forward as unvaccinated members return to the force.

“Particularly, if there’s a new strain of COVID, we want to make sure we have enough of the supplies on board, like masks and those kinds of things, so if we have to revert back to the way we were doing things before the vaccine, that we’re able to do that fairly quickly,” Gilday said.

While Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro warned lawmakers in December that rescinding the COVID vaccine mandate would create two classes of sailors — those who can and can’t deploy — Gilday said Thursday that the Navy policy change is consistent with the law and that the service was not, in his view, creating a distinction between the two groups.

The Navy first started kicking out unvaccinated sailors from the service in January 2022, and altogether, the service ousted 1,639 active duty sailors and 402 Navy Reserve sailors for refusing the jab, according to numbers the service updated on Nov. 30. At the time, the service said a total of 2,258 active component and 3,024 Ready Reserve service members remained unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Austin’s reversal of policy in January was the result of a provision included in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. Still, Austin said the Department of Defense would advocate that service members receive the jab.

“The Department will continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination for all Service members,” Austin wrote in a memo in January. “The Department has made COVID-19 vaccination as easy and convenient as possible, resulting in vaccines administered to over two million Service members and 96 percent of the force ― Active and Reserve ― being fully vaccinated.”

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at

In Other News
Load More