Hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine or only received one of two doses as the Defense Department's first vaccine mandate deadlines approach.
For active-duty service members, 90% of the Navy are fully vaccinated, 81% of the Army, about 81% of the Air Force, and 76.5% of the Marine Corps, the Washington Post reported.
The Air Force has the closest deadline of Nov. 2, with over 60,000 active-duty personnel not yet vaccinated. Both the Navy and the Marines have the same deadline of Nov. 28, but the latter, with a total of 180,100 active-duty members, is 13.5% behind in vaccination rate to the former, with 345,200 active-duty members.
The National Guard and reserves are the farthest behind in vaccination rates, as they tend to have later deadlines. The Army National Guard and reserves have vaccination deadlines of June 30, 2022, and their rates are currently at 38.5% and 40%, respectively, according to the Post.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Terence M. Kelley said in a statement that the June deadline for its National Guard and reserves is due to how large and geographically dispersed the units are. COVID restrictions on in-person activities have also made it more difficult to process the large number of medical records, counsel skeptical soldiers, and get people vaccinated, he said, the Post reported.
Also, approximately half of Army reservists are unable to get the vaccine from military health clinics because they don't live near them, Kelley added.
"We expect all unvaccinated soldiers to receive the vaccine as soon as possible. Individual soldiers are required to receive the vaccine when available," he said. The deadlines in June "allow reserve component units necessary time to update records and process exemption requests."
Army National Guardsmen and reservists who are mobilized on federal order after the active-duty vaccination deadline of Dec. 15 must be vaccinated before leaving their home station. Commanders can accelerate the June deadline but it would delay moving personnel who have not yet begun the two-dose vaccine regimen, according to the Post.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who is on the House Armed Services Committee, said the Army Reserve deadline was "jarring" and may impact mobilization of the unit.
"I think the Army needs to take this seriously and their effort to explain away the problem" is irresponsible, Gallego said, the Post reported. "You're allowing a lot of room for people not to be deployable."
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) tweeted his concern about service members leaving the Armed Forces because of the COVID vaccine mandate.
"Question for the [Secretary of Defense]: are you really willing to allow a huge exodus of experienced service members just because they won't take the vaccine? Honestly, Americans deserve to know how you plan on dealing with this blow to force readiness — it's already causing serious problems."