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Thousands of Marines are still not vaccinated against COVID-19 despite the U.S. military’s vaccine mandate, and more than 160 have been discharged so far for refusing to get the vaccine.
As of Thursday, 94% of active-duty troops were fully vaccinated and another 1% were partially vaccinated, according to data from the U.S. Marine Corps.
That leaves the remaining 5% of an active-duty Marine force of about 182,500, which amounts to about 9,125 active-duty Marines who are still unvaccinated.
In August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that all service members would be subject to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The announcement came two days after the FDA granted full approval to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.
“The secretary has communicated to the military departments to execute this mandatory vaccination program with, obviously, skill and professionalism, which we always do, but also with a measure of compassion,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement at the time.
So far, at least 169 Marines have been ousted from their positions for refusing to get the shot. Of those, 66 were discharged in just one week earlier this month.
More than 1,000 Marines have been approved for administrative or medical exemptions to taking a coronavirus vaccine. More than 3,000 requests for religious exemptions have been submitted, but none have been approved.
“The speed with which the disease transmits among individuals has increased risk to our Marines and the Marine Corps’ mission,” the Marine Corps said in a statement.
The Marine Corps has struggled to keep up with the other branches of the military regarding its vaccination rate among service members. The Army, Navy and Air Force all have close to or more than 98% service members fully or partially vaccinated.
The Marine Corps has also been the most aggressive about discharging service members who fail to get the shot.
The mandatory deadline for Marines to get the shot was Nov. 28, about one month ago.
“Marines refusing the COVID-19 vaccination, absent an approved administrative or medical exemption, religious accommodation or pending appeal, shall be processed for administrative separation,” the Marine Corps warned in an October statement ahead of the deadline.
The crackdown on service members who are still refusing to get vaccinated comes as some localities crack down on vaccine mandates and other COVID restrictions amid the spread of the novel Omicron variant.
Last week, Chicago announced a new vaccine mandate for indoor dining. Starting January 3, everyone age 5 and older must show proof of vaccination if they want to eat indoors in a restaurant, go to the gym, or enter a theater. The city said that the new rules are “in response to an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases both locally and nationally, driven in part by the Omicron variant.”
New York and Los Angeles have had vaccine mandates for indoor dining for weeks, but this week, New York debuted a statewide indoor mask mandate that some counties say they will not enforce.
Meanwhile, some Ivy League schools are implementing stringent vaccine requirements as well, some even requiring students to get a booster shot.
Earlier this month, the Pentagon said there are “active discussions” about mandating a COVID-19 booster shot for service members.