The Pentagon has laid out its enforcement and punishment procedures for its civilian Covid-19 vaccine mandate with just over a month to go until the deadline for civilian employees to be fully vaccinated.
The guidance, which was circulated on Monday, says civilian employees who refuse to be vaccinated will face an escalating series of punishments, including five days of education and counseling, 14 days of unpaid suspension, and finally termination “for failing to follow a direct order.”
These enforcement actions can begin on November 22, the date of the deadline for vaccination. The guidance notes that there are other options for punishment as well, though it does not say what they are.
Civilian employees with an exemption from vaccination or awaiting a decision on an exemption will not face enforcement actions. Employees can get vaccinated during working hours and they may take two days of administrative leave after receiving each dose if they experience an adverse reactions.
Meanwhile, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, pushed back against the military’s mandate. In a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Inhofe urged the military to “suspend the vaccine mandate,” according to a press release from his office.
In the letter sent Monday, Inhofe argued the mandate may hurt military readiness, which is the opposite of what Pentagon officials have said.
“At a time when our adversaries continue to increase their quantitative and qualitative advantage against our forces, we should seek to ensure that no policy, even unintentionally, hinders military readiness,” Inhofe wrote in the letter.
After Austin announced he planned to ask President Joe Biden for approval to implement a vaccine mandate for the military, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said a proposed mandate was critical to military readiness.
Milley said in a memo in August that the “Joint Force medical professionals recommend this as a necessary step to sustain our readiness and protect our force, our coworkers, our families, and our communities.”
Services have different deadlines
Each service has set a deadline for service members to be vaccinated. The Air Force has the earliest deadline, requiring its active duty force to be fully vaccinated by November 2. As of this month, the Air Force has fully or partially vaccinated 95.4% of active duty airmen.
The Navy, which has a November 28 deadline, leads the services with 99% of its active duty force either fully or partially vaccinated, while the Marine Corps, with the same deadline, has fully or partially vaccinated 90% of active duty Marines.
The Army has partially or fully vaccinated 91.4% of active duty soldiers, and its deadline for vaccination is December 15.
In all, the military has a 96.7% vaccination rate among active duty, including fully and partially vaccinated, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a briefing last week, which means approximately 44,700 active duty troops remain unvaccinated out of a total force of 1.35 million. That puts the military well ahead of the general population, which has a 78.4% vaccinate rate for those 18 and over.
Neither the Navy nor the Marine Corps have granted any religious exemptions for service members as the deadlines approach for vaccination, the services said last week, though both acknowledge receiving exemption requests.
“As of October 14, multiple religious accommodation requests related to the COVID vaccine mandate have been adjudicated and none have yet been approved,” the Navy said in a statement to CNN on Friday.
“As we continue to review and adjudicate such requests, each will continue to be given full consideration with respect to the specific facts and circumstances submitted,” the statement said.
Last Wednesday, the Marine Corps said it too had not approved any religious exemptions.
“As of Oct 13, 2021, no religious accommodation requests have been approved for the COVID-19 vaccine,” the Marine Corps said in a statement. “All current exemption requests are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”
Last Thursday, the Navy made it clear that it will pursue discharge for any sailors who refuse vaccination without a pending or approved exemption.
“Commands shall not allow Sailors refusing the vaccine to promote or advance, reenlist, or execute orders with the exception of separation orders,” the Navy said in a press release.
CNN has reached out to the Air Force and Army to see if either have approved any religious exemptions.
Unlike the military, the Defense Department does not have a system in place to track vaccinations in real-time for its civilian workforce. Instead, civilian employees must provide proof of vaccination to their supervisors, who will then verify and record the information.
Pentagon contractors to do not fall under this guidance. Instead, they must either be fully vaccinated or show the results of a recent negative Covid-19 test before entering any DoD buildings or facilities.
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