COVID-19 vaccination mandate remains an issue across maritime services

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Joseph Casassa, assigned to the dental department of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), administers a COVID-19 vaccine at the McCormick Gymnasium aboard Naval Base Norfolk, April 8, 2021. The Department of Defense now authorizes the use of Novavax COVID-19 Vaccinations for the military. US NAVY / Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jackson Adkins

ARLINGTON, Va. — Seven U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets who refused to comply with the Army’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate have been unenrolled and expelled from the school’s campus in New London, Connecticut , end of August.

“Although the seven cadets have been de-enrolled, they have not been separated from the Coast Guard Academy and continue to receive cadet pay and entitlements until their separation is processed,” the statement said. Coast Guard in a statement sent to sea ​​power September 8. The seven will not be able to recover their college fees, the Coast Guard said.

Two days after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s August 24, 2021 mandate requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for all service members to protect the force and maintain readiness, the Coast Guard announced a mandatory vaccination.

Fifteen cadets filed requests for medical exemption or religious accommodation in September 2021. They were assessed on a case-by-case basis by the Coast Guard’s Office of Military Personnel Policy and denied. The 15 cadets were notified on March 14, 2022 and had 10 working days to appeal. Appeals were denied by Coast Guard headquarters and all 15 were told to report to the Academy Clinic for their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Four opted for vaccination, four others resigned from the Academy, the coast guard said.

On June 13, the remaining seven cadets were notified that they were “in violation of Uniform Code of Military Justice Section 90, Willfully Disobeying a Superior Officer, and Section 92, Disobedience [an] order or settlement,” according to the statement. They had five additional days to comply. On June 22, they were notified of their deregistration and given the opportunity to appeal to Coast Guard Headquarters. The cadets were informed on August 15 that their opt-out appeals had been denied and were instructed to “move to another yard status effective August 19, 2022.”

All seven “left the Academy at their convenience on August 19” based on their individual travel arrangements assisted by Academy staff. “The seven cadets are currently residing in a safe location, having either returned to their families or being housed with the families of other cadets,” the Coast Guard statement said.

Several federal lawsuits challenge the military’s process for granting religious exemptions from the vaccination mandate, including two in South Carolina and Texas involving some of the fired Coast Guard cadets.

Nearly 5,000 sailors and marines have been dismissed from the maritime services since the end of 2021 for refusing to be vaccinated. The Navy received 4,251 for religious accommodation, the Marines 3,733. Only a handful were approved. However, a federal judge in Texas certified a class action lawsuit by sailors, including several Navy SEALS, seeking religious exemption and issued a preliminary injunction on March 30, stopping the separation of the class members. A similar injunction was issued against the Marine Corps on August 18 by a federal judge in Florida.

A coalition of more than 20 state attorneys general filed an amicus brief before 5e United States Court of Appeals, upholding Navy SEALs’ religious liberty claims seeking exemptions from mandatory vaccination requirement in Texas case. While lower courts have blocked separating vaccine denials, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the Navy can consider a sailor’s vaccination status during deployment and other operational decisions while disputes judiciary flowed through the system.

As of August 31, according to the Department of Defense’s latest COVID-19 statistics, 1.99 million service members have been fully vaccinated, including 387,477 in the Navy and 200,435 in the Marine Corps.

Nevertheless, as of August 24, 3,000 sailors on active duty and 3,376 on the Ready Reserve remain unvaccinated. The Marine Corps’ latest COVID update does not give specific numbers, stating only that as of August 4, only 5% of the active duty and reserve force were unvaccinated.

Novavax is coming

In a related development, the Department of Defense announced on August 29 that a new COVID-19 vaccine, Novavax, will be available as an option at military clinics. Officials hope that Novavax, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization for people 12 and older, may be more palatable to the thousands of soldiers who have refused Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for religious reasons. or moral reasons.

Novavax uses technology that has been used in other vaccines required by the military, such as the hepatitis B vaccine. Novavax is not made with or tested on fetal tissue cells. It does not use mRNA or DNA technology and does not penetrate cell nuclei, Pentagon officials said.

“We now have a range of COVID-19 vaccines available at our military medical treatment facilities and they all offer strong protection against hospitalization, serious illness and death,” said Dr. Michael Malanoski, deputy director of the Defense Health Agency, in a statement. . However, like the start of the other three vaccines, the FDA’s emergency use authorization means service members cannot be coerced into taking Novavax.


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