A sailor receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine early this year at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

A sailor receives his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine early this year at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. (Quinton Lee/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — The Navy has established a special command to process separations for sailors who refuse the coronavirus vaccine after the upcoming deadline for inoculations, the service said in a statement Thursday.

Active-duty sailors who are not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus after Nov. 28 without a pending or approved exemption request will be forced out of the Navy for failing to obey a lawful order, according to the statement. For Navy Reserve sailors, the deadline is Dec. 28.

The Pentagon does not consider a person fully vaccinated until two weeks after the last shot in the series, meaning the final day to meet the deadline is Nov. 14. Two available vaccines — by Moderna and Pfizer — require two shots. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is administered in a single dose.

Sailors who continue refusing the shot after the deadline will have their case sent to the Navy’s newly established COVID Consolidate Disposition Authority, which Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John B. Nowell Jr. established to “ensure a fair and consistent process for separation determinations,” according to the Navy.

COVID-19 is the name of the disease the coronavirus causes.

“Those separated only for vaccine refusal will receive no lower than a general discharge under honorable conditions,” the service said in its statement. “This type of discharge could result in the loss of some veterans’ benefits.”

About 94% of active-duty sailors have been fully immunized and 99% have received at least one dose, according to the Navy’s weekly coronavirus update on Wednesday.

The service said the vaccine helps sailors “execute their mission at all times, in places throughout the world, including where vaccination rates are low and disease transmission is high.”

“Immunizations are of paramount importance to protecting the health of the force and the warfighting readiness of the fleet,” the Navy said in the statement.

The CCDA has the authority to remove a refusing sailor’s warfare qualifications, additional qualification designations and Navy enlisted classifications or sub-specialties, according to the statement.

“The CCDA may also seek recoupment of applicable bonuses, special and incentive pays, and the cost of training and education for service members refusing the vaccine,” the service said in the statement.

In August the Pentagon mandated the vaccine for all troops. The service branches were each given authority to establish their own deadlines and processes for removal, and the Navy is the first of the five to release its detailed separation process.

The Navy’s separation process will not wait for the vaccination deadline. Administrative actions may begin as soon as a sailor meets the service’s definition of “refusing the vaccine,” which is one who “received a lawful order to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is not or will not be fully vaccinated on the date required by the order and does not have a pending or approved exemption request,” according to the Navy.

“Effective immediately … commands shall not allow sailors refusing the vaccine to promote or advance, reenlist or execute orders, with the exception of separation orders, until the CCDA has completed disposition of their case,” the Navy said in the statement. “Transfer orders may be cancelled by Navy Personnel Command.”

Further, beginning Thursday, officers and enlisted sailors in senior leadership who refuse the vaccine will be “notified immediately in writing that they have five days to either begin a vaccination series or request an exemption before being relieved and have detachment for cause initiated,” according to the Navy.

Senior leadership roles are those that are “members of command triads and those key staff positions, including any flag officer or flag officer select,” according to the statement.

Additionally, commanding officers and officers in charge are now allowed to temporarily reassign sailors who refuse the vaccine, “regardless of exemption status, based on operational readiness or mission requirements.

However, sailors who refuse must first receive counseling on the vaccine to ensure they know the facts about its safety, efficacy and need. Should they still refuse, the service member’s supervisor must submit a “special evaluation or fitness report” and document their failure to comply with the order to receive the shot, the Navy said.

Commands must then report the sailor refusing the vaccine to Navy Personnel Command, which oversees the coronavirus disposition authority, according to the statement.

There is still time to apply for a vaccine exemption for religious or medical reasons. Additionally, sailors who start terminal leave on or before the vaccine deadlines “are administratively exempted from vaccine requirements,” according to the statement.

Since the start of the pandemic, 164 sailors, Navy personnel and other “members of the Navy family” have died from the coronavirus — “far exceeding the combined total of all other health or mishap related injuries and deaths over the same time period,” according to the statement. At least 144 were unvaccinated and the vaccination status of the 20 others was unknown.

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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