The U.S. military’s largest service branch has announced an extensive timeline for troops to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, and what they can expect to have happen if they don’t.
Army officials said Tuesday that all active-duty units are expected to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15, and Reserve and National Guard members by June 30. Those who refuse to be vaccinated and have not been given an exemption will face suspension, according to the guidelines.
“While soldiers who refuse the vaccine will first be counseled by their chain of command and medical providers,” the Army guidelines say, “continued failure to comply could result in administrative or nonjudicial punishment — to include relief of duties or discharge from the service.”
The possible consequences vary somewhat by role. Army commanders, command sergeants major, first sergeants and officers on track for future command assignments who refuse to be vaccinated and are not given an exemption face suspension and relief from duty. Soldiers of all ranks who are not in command positions can receive a general order of reprimand, which may be removed from their file when they are next transferred or may be placed into their permanent file, affecting future assignments and promotions.
The Army is the last branch of the military to issue guidelines following the Pentagon’s announcement last month that active-duty military personnel would be required to be vaccinated.
The Navy and Marines have already informed their rank and file that the clock is ticking on their vaccinations.
All active-duty Air Force troops must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 2, and Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members by Dec. 2. The directive has had immediate impact in the Air Force: 74.5 percent of active-duty members have now had at least one vaccine shot, up from 65.2 percent last month.
Active-duty sailors and Marines must be fully vaccinated within 90 days of Aug. 30, while reserve Navy service members have 120 days to comply. Refusal without an approved exemption may result in administrative action, according to the Navy plan.
All Navy coronavirus deaths have been among troops who were not fully immunized; one was partially vaccinated.
Vaccination rates in the military already outpace much of the rest of the country, but commanders are seeking nearly total compliance, as the military does with many other vaccines, fearing that failure to get everyone inoculated would imperil readiness.
Since the Pentagon mandated coronavirus vaccinations last month, the percentage of all service members with at least one shot has risen to 83 percent from 76 percent, according to Defense Department data.
“This is quite literally a matter of life and death for our soldiers, their families and the communities in which we live,” Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, the Army Surgeon General, said in a news release. “Case counts and deaths continue to be concerning as the Delta variant spreads, which makes protecting the force through mandatory vaccination a health and readiness priority for the total Army.”