WHAT'S UP WITH THE HIGH NUMBER OF COVID VACCINE EXEMPTION REQUESTS?
By Michael Wang
While these vaccines were being rolled out to the public, some military personnel were hesitant about receiving them. Some have waived to be excused from the vaccine due to reasons such as medical, religious, or other administrative reasons. Therefore, this prompted a wave of people who wanted to be provided with a COVID vaccine exemption.
Read more about it:Army COVID Vaccine Refusers Are Already Being Discharged
Concerns Rise Over Skyrocketing COVID Vaccine Exemption NumbersWith all the COVID vaccine exemptions, the Department of Defense (DoD) is concerned about the legitimacy of the high number of requests. As a result, the DoD believes authorities may have rushed through COVID vaccine exemption requests. Now, more effort is being put into analyzing each request to make sure approved exemption requests aren’t given willy-nilly.
How To Claim Religious Exemption for COVID VaccineWhile the coronavirus vaccine was made mandatory for all military personnel, the only exemptions that the Pentagon was willing to uphold were religious or medical. One way military personnel could get an exemption is because of their religious beliefs. Though this claim can be subjective and can be argued against, a federal judge in Georgia allowed an anonymous Air Force Officer, who was denied a religious exemption, not to have to receive the coronavirus vaccine because of her religious beliefs. The judge ruled that the mandate to have all military workers be vaccinated violated the officer’s religious freedoms. Though this case was ruled in favor of the officer, this might encourage other people to bring forth their own reasons on why they believe they shouldn't get vaccinated. Service members who want to be exempted from taking the vaccine are asked to fill out a COVID vaccine exemption form. They must provide specific reasoning as to why they want to be exempted from being vaccinated. For religious purposes, the reasoning is carefully reviewed and evaluated to make sure it's within reasonable limits. As for the total number of COVID vaccine exemptions, there’s a pending list that many people are on to be exempted from their mandatory vaccinations. In the Marine Corps, a total of 3,595 religious exemption requests have been submitted, and from that list, 640 Marines were separated from their duties for refusing vaccination after their request was denied. As for the Air Force, only nine exemptions have been approved, and nearly 3,400 requests to be exempted have been rejected. On top of that, there are still another 2,664 requests pending. Like the Marine Corps, the Air Force let go 160 service members for refusing to take the vaccine. In the Navy, there were 3,369 religious exemption requests; however, none of them were approved. Through the exemption request process, a total of 247 active-duty Sailors and one reserve Sailor were discharged for refusing the vaccine. The Army also received a huge amount of religious exemption requests but approved none of them.
Medical Exemptions for COVID VaccinesAside from a religious exemption for COVID vaccines, military personnel can also file for an exemption due to medical reasons. COVID vaccine exemption acceptance or denial due to health conditions varies from person to person, as each case is different. Medical exemptions could be granted for reasons such as:
- Health issues that may cause the patient to have a severe reaction after a specific vaccine.
- Support from a medical provider that determines that the vaccinations will endanger a patient’s health.
- Evidence that there is an existing immunity to a vaccine-preventable infection.
Military Lawsuits & COVID-19 ExemptionAfter the DoD’s military COVID mandate for vaccines, they faced a number of legal objections. In an ongoing case in Texas, a judge ruled that the Navy couldn't take any unfavorable actions or chastise a group for not wanting to take the vaccine and claim a religious exemption from it. The U.S. District Judge on this case, Reed O'Connor, issued an order preventing the Navy from taking any harsh action against the 35 Navy Seals who sued them because they wanted to be exempt from the vaccine requirement due to religious reasons. This ruling halted the Navy from implementing policies that would allow these people to be considered non-deployable or disqualified from Special Operations. The lawsuit indicates that the Navy has been handling their cases in completely the wrong way and that it violated their Free Exercise of Religion Clause, as well as their Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is a law that prohibits any department or official of the United States from substantially interfering in a person’s exercise of religion. O’Connor believes that the people who filed the lawsuit are likely to win in their efforts to claim their religious exemption. The DoD has seen cases where they found a “trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessments that’s required by the Federal Law and the Department of Defense and Military Service policies.” Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell shared that there were several memorandums from the Air Force and the Navy where it didn’t reflect on their “individualized analysis…and has considered a full range of the facts and circumstances relevant to the particular religious accommodation request.” Officials are required to carefully review each request which considers the “full range of facts and the circumstances relevant to the specific request.” O’Donnell also stated that the “volume and rate at which the decisions were made to deny requests is concerning!” With the offices at the DoD dealing with a slew of COVID vaccine exemption requests, it’s imperative that the officers checking them carefully verify the facts and properly handle the cases one by one.
Effects of the COVID Vaccine Exemption RatesThe renewed focus of the military on thoroughly reviewing exemption requests sends a strong message that people can't just request a COVID vaccine exemption on a whim for religious reasons. There has to be proper reasoning and thorough support from multiple sources for there to be even a consideration of an exemption. Those who don't abide by the military COVID mandate will face consequences such as loss of pay or the loss of the ability to train. Anyone who still refuses to follow the protocols will face discharge and be relieved of their duties. With these outcomes in mind, this incentivizes the service workers to take the COVID vaccine.
Pushing Forward and Looking AheadWith the COVID vaccine exemptions steadily increasing, it raises the question of how we can keep military personnel protected. Some may disagree with the strong push for vaccinations in the military and elsewhere, but many of us have a common understanding of wanting to keep our service men and women safe both on the battlefield and off of it.
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