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Navy looking at ways to encourage sailors to get the coronavirus vaccine

Members of Camp Lemonnier's Expeditionary Medical Facility and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa work together to conduct medical screenings and assign restriction of movement locations as part of the indoctrination process to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, on May 14, 2020.

MARQUIS WHITEHEAD/U.S. NAVY

By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 29, 2021

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WASHINGTON — The Navy could potentially relax some of its coronavirus health protection policies for sailors who receive the vaccine, the service's personnel chief said Friday.

“I think you’re also going to see — not quite yet but probably in the not-too-distant future — that it's going to be pretty attractive to get the vaccine because we'll have sailors who can avoid, for instance, a two-week quarantine on the ship or in a barracks room before we bring them into that clean bubble if they have the vaccine,” Vice Adm. John Nowell told reporters during a media roundtable discussion.

Relaxing the restriction of movement or other policy incentives for vaccinated sailors is still being discussed and nothing has been formalized, Cmdr. Dave Hecht, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, wrote Friday in an email.

The restriction of movement policies for sailors after they travel or before they deploy are decided on and enforced by individual commands. Questions to the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery regarding the possibility of relaxing health protection policies for vaccinated sailors as an incentive to receive the vaccine were not returned Friday afternoon.

“A lot of sailors that I know would much prefer being able to get a vaccine and then be safe, to not have to do some of the other [coronavirus] risk mitigation measures we put in place like two-week quarantine,” Nowell said.

The current rate of sailors willing to get the vaccine is about 70 percent, according to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

The USS Benfold, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer in the Pacific Fleet, has a 96 percent vaccine acceptance rate among its crew, according to Nowell.

“That's all about shipmates understanding that they need to take care of themselves, and their shipmates, and then therefore their ship,” he said.

The Navy is also looking into a targeted survey for commands where there is low acceptance of the vaccine to understand why people are not taking it and what the service can do to help, Nowell said.

kenney.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

Sailors deliver meals to personnel in a Restriction of Movement status at Naval Air Facility Misawa on March 26, 2020.
JOSEPH M. BULIAVAC/U.S. NAVY