News | Feb. 10, 2022

COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate: Evolving Guidance & Procedures

By Lt. Laura Supple and Lt. Kyra Ziesk-Socolov, RLSO NDW

Mandatory Vaccination
In recent months, the Department of the Navy (DON) has taken significant steps to counter the ongoing threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to the health and safety of the Fleet.  On Aug. 31, 2021, NAVADMIN 190/21 message announced the Navy’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.  The NAVADMIN implemented a Aug. 24, 2021 memorandum from the Secretary of Defense requiring vaccination against COVID-19 for all DoD service members.  Navy Sailors will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with vaccines that have received Food and Drug Administration licensure or through the voluntary administration of vaccines under FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) or World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Use Listing.  The NAVADMIN set firm deadlines for vaccination: Sailors on active duty were required to be vaccinated by Nov. 28, 2021, while reservists were required to be compliant by Dec. 28, 2021.  The Navy’s definition of “fully vaccinated” required service members to be at least two weeks past their second shot (or two weeks past their vaccine date for a single-dose vaccine like Johnson & Johnson) by the deadline to be compliant with the NAVADMIN.

While the Aug. 31 NAVADMIN provided Sailors with clarity about the deadline for full vaccination, it left several important questions unanswered, including what would ultimately happen to service members who continued to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine or would not be vaccinated by the mandatory deadline.  Further, while the NAVADMIN did explain that these Sailors’ cases would be handled by a designated COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority (CCDA) with access to the full range of administrative and disciplinary responses, the NAVADMIN did not indicate who the CCDA would be, or how the Navy intended to address service members who continued to refuse the vaccine.

Disciplinary Consequences
Sailors gained additional insight into the processes and disciplinary consequences associated with continued vaccine refusal on Oct. 14, 2021, when the Navy released NAVADMIN 225/21.  This NAVADMIN identified the Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP) as the CCDA, and clarified that any Navy service member who refused the COVID-19 vaccine and was not fully vaccinated by the applicable deadline, absent a pending or approved vaccination exemption request, would be processed for administrative separation.  All separation proceedings associated with COVID-19 vaccine refusal will be centralized under the CCDA, with the exception of Entry Level Separations (ELS) (only available for Sailors in their first 180 days of continuous active duty service).  Commanders and commanding officers remain the ELS separation authority under the NAVADMIN.  Officer promotions and enlisted advancements will also be withheld for any Sailor refusing the vaccine.

Vaccination Exemptions
Exemptions to immunization requirements fall into one of three categories: medical, administrative, or religious.

Medical - exemptions are applicable if a Sailor’s medical history suggests that getting a given vaccine would adversely impact their health (e.g. underlying medical conditions, allergies to vaccine ingredients).  Medical exemptions are generally of indefinite duration unless the exemption is granted in response to a temporary health condition like pregnancy or hospitalization.  Sailors seeking medical exemptions should contact a military physician.

Administrative - NAVADMIN 225/21 specifies that Sailors who will begin terminal leave on or before their applicable vaccination deadline may be administratively exempted from receiving the vaccine.  See BUMEDNOTE 6150 (Sept. 21, 2021) and BUMEDINST 6230.15B for more information.

Religious - If the COVID-19 vaccine substantially burdens a service member’s sincerely-held religious beliefs, the Sailor may request a waiver by routing a religious accommodation package via their commanding officer to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education) (DCNO (N1)).  DCNO (N1) is the decision authority on all religious accommodation requests.  Service members seeking religious accommodations must be counseled by a qualified healthcare provider on the medical risks associated with refusing the vaccine and must conduct an administrative interview with a Navy chaplain prior to submitting a package.  Reference DoDI 1300.17 (Religious Liberty in the Military Services), BUPERSINST 1730.11A (Standards and Procedures Governing the Accommodation of Religious Practices), and MILPERSMAN 1730-020 (Immunization Exemptions for Religious Beliefs) for additional information on requesting a religious accommodation.

If you have any questions, please contact your chain of command or your local staff judge advocate office!
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