On Jan. 12, 2023, the US Navy halted all involuntary separations of sailors who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But the vast majority of personnel received the jab, including Chief Navy Counselor Agnieszka Grzelczyk from Navy Talent Acquisition Group Philadelphia. She received her first shot on COVID-19 vaccine at Naval Weapons Station Earle on March 10, 2021. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Diana Quinlan.
The US Navy will stop booting sailors who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Thursday, Jan. 12, the Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Adm. Richard J. Cheeseman Jr., ordered all commands worldwide to “immediately discontinue administrative separation processing of Navy service members solely for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, including those with approved separation letters.”
The three-star also ordered all commands to halt “any new adverse administrative actions associated with refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Cheeseman’s latest move follows actions by Congress, President Joe Biden, and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to quit evicting service members who refuse the jab. Cheeseman’s order moves the Navy into alignment with a similar measure promulgated by Austin two days earlier.
Naval Hospital Bremerton held a SHOTEX, the medical center's annual mass influenza and COVID-19 booster shot vaccination outreach, from Oct. 16 - 22, 2022. US Navy photo by Douglas H Stutz.
In the last public update, posted on Nov. 30, the Navy reported 2,258 active sailors and another 3,024 reservists weren’t vaccinated, but 385,282 active and reserve sailors had received the jab.
On Thursday, Navy officials told Coffee or Die Magazine that 2,065 sailors had been approved for separation by Jan. 9 because they refused the vaccine.
All separated sailors received “honorable characterization of service” on their discharges, but there’s a caveat to that.
The reentry code on their discharge forms bars them from returning to the Navy, transferring to the reserve component, or joining another branch of the military without a waiver, essentially blocking them from reenlistment.
Command Master Chief Anthony Corey receives a flu shot at Naval Station Great Lakes. Officials there continue to mull changes to COVID-19 vaccination policy in light of changes across the armed forces dictated by Congress, the White House, and Pentagon. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joseph E. Montemarano.
Officials told Coffee or Die senior leaders continue to debate whether, or how,they might tweak those discharge codes to reflect the new policy.
Recruit Training Command officials at Naval Station Great Lakes also are studying how they will inoculate the nation's newest sailors, and accommodate those who refuse the shot.
“According to our instruction and policy, Recruit Training Command has halted the removal of recruits from training and separation processing for those who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine as of 12 January, 2023," said Recruit Training Command spokesperson Lt. Nicholas Lingo in an email to Coffee or Die. "Refusal of the vaccination is no longer a justification for separation.”
By the end of November, the Navy estimated that 202,085 sailors, civilian personnel, and dependents had contracted the COVID-19 virus, and 195 of them died.
The virus killed 17 sailors.
Editor's Note: On Jan. 13, 2023, this story was updated to include a statement from Recruit Training Command.
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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