US Army says soldiers who refuse COVID-19 vaccine could be dismissed

Coronavirus Vaccine

FORT BRAGG, NC – JANUARY 04: U.S. troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division board a bus as they head out for a deployment to the Middle East on January 4, 2020 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Soldiers from the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd are part of the approximately 3,000 troops being deployed as tensions increase with Iran in the region after a U.S. airstrike killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. (Photo by Andrew Craft/Getty Images)

 WASHINGTON (Reuters) — American army officers who refuse to be vaccinated against the coronavirus could be suspended from their duties and possibly discharged, the U.S. Army said on Tuesday.

After the Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had ordered that all active duty service members must get vaccinated.

The Army said it had begun implementing this order in late August, adding that soldiers could request an exemption on legitimate medical, religious or administrative grounds.

However, commanders, command sergeants major, first sergeants and officers in Command Select List positions who refuse to be vaccinated and are not pending an exemption request would face suspension and relief if they refuse to comply, the Army said in a statement.

“While soldiers who refuse the vaccine will first be counseled by their chain of command and medical providers, continued failure to comply could result in administrative or non-judicial punishment – to include relief of duties or discharge,” it said.

“This is quite literally a matter of life and death for our soldiers, their families and the communities in which we live,” U.S. Army Surgeon General Raymond Scott Dingle said, citing concern over the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

As of last week, the U.S. Department of Defense reported over 353,000 COVID-19 cases across its personnel and more than 450 deaths.

The Army now expects its active-duty units to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15, and its Reserve and National Guard units by June 30 of next year. 

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