5% of Marines are unvaccinated against COVID-19 as deadline hits

About 5% of active Marines have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, military officials said late Monday, military officials said late Monday, potentially leaving thousands of service members with an uncertain future after an important deadline on Nov. 28 to get the shot.

The Marine Corps’ 95% vaccination rate is expected to be among the lowest of the military services, although officials stressed that the vast majority of Marines have received at least one dose.

“I have great appreciation for all those who have made these vaccinations possible, including civilian and naval medical personnel who have worked tirelessly over the past few months to protect our Marines and families,” said Marine Corps Commander General David Berger in a statement.

Pentagon officials have made it clear that Marines who are not vaccinated – and do not receive a medical or religious dispensation – can be thrown out of force. Other services have also launched aggressive pushes to get their staff vaccinated with the threat of temporary or perhaps even permanent deportation.

But amid COVID-19 vaccine skepticism across the country and in the armed forces, each military service has processed a massive number of exemption applications from staff seeking to avoid immunization.

As of Monday, 316 Marines have been granted a temporary medical exemption. A further 452 have been granted a temporary administrative dispensation. Fourteen Marines have received a permanent medical exemption.

The vast majority of requests for dispensation have been submitted for religious reasons. An astonishing 2,441 Marines have filed religious waiver requests, saying the vaccine mandate violates either a religious or deeply felt moral conviction.

Just over 1,900 of them have already been processed, officials said, and none have been approved.

“The Marine Corps’ process of evaluating requests for religious accommodation requiring an exemption from the policy follows a rigorous approach to ensure that Marines receive due consideration,” the Navy said in a statement.

Critics, however, have argued that the services simply do not have the manpower to handle an overwhelming number of religious exemption requests. The process involves individual interviews with military chaplains and a formal review of officers.

By comparison, the Air Force has received nearly 5,000 religious exemption requests.

The Navy’s vaccination deadline was also 28 November, but the service has not yet released its final figures. The army’s deadline is December 15.

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