As many as 10,000 US Marines are expected to miss the branch’s mandate to be fully vaccinated by Sunday as the branch and the Pentagon weigh how to deal with the service members who don’t get the jab.
The Marines’ vaccination rate, 94 percent, is the lowest among the military, raising questions about what it means for safety and readiness for the branch that is often the US’s first line of defense.
The Navy, in comparison, has a 99.7 percent vaccination rate ahead of the same Sunday deadline.
It is unclear what will happen to Marines that refuse the jab.
‘We will be addressing each case on a case-by-case basis is what we’re going to be doing,’ Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said last week.
‘We’re just not going to all kick them out on the day of the deadline itself.’
Only 94 percent of US Marines are vaccinated ahead of Sunday’s mandate deadline
As many as 10,000 Marines are expected to miss the deadline to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the death toll doubles from last year’s
Marines are younger than most other service members and are mostly male. They also generally don’t have college degrees, all of which are tied to lower vaccination rates
The Navy has the highest vaccination rate of any branch with 99.7 percent
Active duty Marines have until Sunday to get vaccinated, while reservists have until December 28.
In the Army, 95 percent of soldiers have received at least one dose. Active duty soldiers have until December 15 to be fully vaccinated, with the Army saying that those who refuse will not be allowed to re-enlist or be promoted.
The Office of Management and Budget said Wednesday that 92 percent of federal government workers, including the military, have been vaccinated, with just four percent being granted religious or medical exemptions.
The military branches set their own deadlines after the Biden administration announced plans to mandate the vaccine for service members back in August.
Marines are younger on average than members of other services, are mostly male and generally don’t have college degrees, all of which are tied to lower rates of vaccination in the US, according to the Washington Post.
Analysts also cite the spread of fake news about the vaccine, political and societal attitudes and the culture of each branch of the military as reasons why member are holding out.
Earlier this month, Commandant David H. Berger and his senior enlisted adviser, Sgt. Maj. Troy E. Black, released a video message urging Marines to get the jab.
‘When something bad happens around the world and the president says, “I need to know how long it’s going to take to get Marines there,” it’s too late then to get vaccinated,’ Berger said.
‘It’s challenging for us to be able to continue the mission if we’re not ready to go,’ Black said.
Berger continued: ‘We need every single Marine in the unit to be vaccinated. We don’t have extra Marines. We’re a pretty small force, and we have to make sure that everybody on the team is ready to go all the time. That’s our job.’
Not all units suffer from the same vaccine hesitancy. The unit that helped in Afghan evacuations in August, above, was 98 percent vaccinated months earlier
General David Berger, Commandant of the US Marine Corps urged his members to get vaccinated, appealing to the branch’s sense of duty and readiness
As part of the Navy, Marines often operate out of crowded ships, which raises the risk of infection.
There are about 183,000 Marines, making it the second-smallest branch behind the Coast Guard.
The Army, by comparison, had about 480,000 active duty soldiers in 2020, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.
About 10,980 Marines are partially vaccinated as of Thursday, according to a Department of Defense tally. Meanwhile, 187,072 are fully vaccinated.
In total, 75 members of the military have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, while 2,283 have been hospitalized.
‘The Marine Corps has always recognized the threats posed by the COVID-19 Pandemic as a readiness issue, which is why we have consistently emphasized the importance of receiving the vaccine,’ a Marine spokesman told the Washington Post.
‘We are still ready to fight and win our nation’s battles should we be called.’
Experts are worried about what the Marines’ increased levels of vaccine hesitancy mean for preparedness.
‘Marines know they’re an expeditionary force, and pride themselves on discipline and being first to fight,’ retired Marine officer and communications chief David Lapan told the Post.
‘Why did they decide not to follow a direct order?’
David Lapan, a former Marine Corps officer and a former spokesman for the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security, echoed similar sentiments.
‘For decades the Marine Corps has been about the expeditionary force and readiness. “First to Fight,” “Send the Marines” – all those slogans about how they have to be ready to go on a moment’s notice,’ he told USA Today.
‘The Marine Corps prides itself on its discipline and following orders,’ Lapan added . ‘The idea of rejecting an order, that’s counter to Marine Corps culture.’
Not all units appear to suffer from the same vaccine hesitancy.
The crisis-response unit that helped evacuate interpreters and other vulnerable populations after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August was 98 percent vaccinated months before the evacuations, according to the Post.
The Air Force was the first branch to face a deadline back on November 2.
At the time, nearly 97 percent of Airmen and Guardians on active duty got at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the branch.
The Post reports that 9,600 Air Force members either refused the vaccine, didn’t report their status or asked for a medical or religious exemption. The branch is processing 4,800 religious exemptions requests but hasn’t approved any so far.
COVID deaths in the US are now more than double what they were last year, with experts citing the highly contagious Delta variant and vaccine skepticism in certain communities
It is unclear how many Marines have applied for similar exemptions, but the number of approved exemptions is expected to be low. The Navy has only granted six permanent medical exemptions and zero religious exemptions in the past seven years for any vaccine.
In a November 16 memo, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said that a soldier’s record will be flagged the day they make their final vaccine refusal – which requires a meeting with a medical professional and a second order to get vaccinated.
‘I authorize commanders to impose bars to continued service…for all soldiers who refuse the mandatory vaccine order without an approved exemption or pending exemption request,’ Wormuth wrote.
‘The soldier will remain flagged until they are fully vaccinated, receive an approved medical or administrative exemption, or separate from the Army.’
All Army active-duty troops are required to be fully vaccinated by December 15, the latest deadline for all branches.
National Guard and Reserve members have until June 30, 2022.
COVID-19’s death toll has now surpassed last year’s by more than double – reaching almost 774,000 on Thursday compared to last year’s total of 385,343.
Experts say this year’s high death toll is compounded by the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in certain communities, according to the Wall Street Journal.