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Navy nudging remaining sailors to be vaccinated for COVID ahead of deadline

COVID vaccine.jpg
Steve Walsh
Sailors and patients line up for COVID-19 vaccines at Naval Medical Center San Diego. Oct. 15, 2021.

The Pentagon requires all troops to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Navy's deadline for coronavirus vaccination is Nov. 28, 2021.

Last week, the Navy announced a policy for discharging sailors who don’t receive an exemption. They face being discharged with a general discharge under honorable conditions, which is a step below an honorable discharge, which may impact veterans benefits.

As the deadline approaches, the Navy is adding more incentives.

Lt. John Barrow, who is in charge of immunization at Naval Medical Center San Diego, says he’s not expecting a rush.

“Full Navy, Navy-wide it’s 96%, 99% with one dose,” he said. “I can speak to the command, here, we’re doing better than the Navy, as a whole. As we should, we’re medicine.”

A steady stream of sailors and civilian staff continues to line up for shots at the Naval Hospital, but the surge came early- right after the vaccine was available.

“Our average in January was right around 700 to 800 a day, and it slowly has decreased to 300, 200. Now we’re just about 150 to 200,” Barrow said.

There are also spikes in the number of vaccinations every time a ship is getting ready to leave port. The Navy has a built-in incentive for sailors to be vaccinated. Early on in the pandemic, the Navy experienced some of the largest outbreaks in the military, on board ships like the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt. Two weeks of mandatory quarantine were instituted prior to every deployment. If sailors are fully vaccinated, sailors can skip the quarantine and the mask protocols onboard the ship.

Barrow says that less than 100 people among the 6,000 people who work at the Naval Medical Center applied for a medical or religious exemption. Instead, the medical staff has been trying to answer a wide range of questions from sailors.

“It was a tracking device for the government to track you, sterility in males and females
— those are the top ones that we had to show there is no evidence to support any of that,” he said.

A small handful of medical exemptions have been granted, mainly to sailors who can show they had an adverse reaction to the first dose. Those seeking a religious exemption must see the chaplain. The Navy has not ruled on those exemptions, Barrow said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced in August that all troops and Pentagon employees must be vaccinated for COVID-19.

The Marines have the same Nov. 28 deadline for all Marines to be vaccinated. In a statement, Marine Corps officials say 79% of their troops are fully vaccinated and 91% with one dose. According to the statement, the Marines have not issued a single policy handling troops who refused to be vaccinated and who don’t qualify for an exemption, but are considering further action as the deadline approaches.

Navy nudging remaining sailors to be vaccinated for COVID ahead of deadline

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