The U.S. military is experiencing a wide variance in vaccination rates and, as some lawmakers warn, vaccine hesitancy amid mandate deadlines could deliver a further blow to military readiness.
The active-duty Navy is 90% fully vaccinated (98% with at least one dose), but the Marine Corps is just at 72% fully vaccinated before their Nov. 28 deadline under Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's mandate, and 60,000 Air Force members remain unvaccinated, The Washington Post reported.
The military has suffered more deaths in 2021 than all of 2020, but none of the deaths were among those fully vaccinated, according to Pentagon spokesman Maj. Charlie Dietz.
The Army Guard and Reserve, which make up one-quarter all of U.S. military forces, is just 40% fully vaccinated before their deadline of next June, while active-duty Army is just 81% fully vaccinated before a Dec. 15 deadline, according to the report.
"The Army's policy is incentivizing inaction until the latest possible date," Center for a New American Security expert Katherine L. Kuzminski told the Post. "The way we've seen the virus evolve tells us looking out to June 30 may need to be reconsidered."
For now, the Army is defending its June deadline for vaccination, noting it will "allow reserve component units necessary time to update records and process exemption requests," according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Terence M. Kelley.
"We expect all unvaccinated soldiers to receive the vaccine as soon as possible," Kelley told the Post. "Individual soldiers are required to receive the vaccine when available."
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, tweeted to Secretary Austin last month a warning about vaccine mandates leading to retention and recruiting issues, ultimately affecting U.S. military readiness, which had already been a concern before COVID-19.
"Question for the SECDEF: are you really willing to allow a huge exodus of experienced service members just because they won’t take the vaccine? Honestly, Americans deserve to know how you plan on dealing with this blow to force readiness – it's already causing serious problems."
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is concerned about readiness, too, but more because unvaccinated soldiers and service members might not be deployable.
"I think the Army needs to take this seriously and their effort to explain away the problem" is irresponsible, he told the Post. "You're allowing a lot of room for people not to be deployable."
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