WASHINGTON (AP) — Up to 40,000 Army National Guard soldiers nationwide — or about 13% of the force — have yet to receive a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, and as the deadline for the shots loom, at least one of them 14,000 have flat out refused and may be forced out of service.
Guard jawans have time till Thursday to get vaccinated. And according to data obtained by The Associated Press, 20% to 30% of Guard soldiers in six states have not been vaccinated, and more than 10% in 43 other states still need shots.
Guard leaders say states are doing everything possible to encourage soldiers to be vaccinated by the deadline. And he said he would work with about 7,000 people who have sought exemptions, almost all for religious reasons.
“We are going to give every soldier every opportunity to get vaccinated and continue their military career. For every soldier who is pending exemption, we will continue to support them through their process,” Army said in an Associated Press interview. National Guard director Lt. Gen. John Jensen said. “Until the separation paperwork is signed and completed, we are not releasing anyone. There is still time.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last year ordered all service members — active-duty, National Guard and Reserves — to receive the vaccine, saying it was vital to maintaining the health and readiness of the force. Military services had different time frames for their troops, and the Army National Guard was given the longest time to receive shots, mainly because it is a large force of about 330,000 soldiers widely spread across the country. are scattered from, many are in remote places.
The Army Guard’s vaccine percentage is one of the lowest in the US military – with all active duty Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps at 97% or higher and Air Guard at around 94%. The military reported Friday that 90% of Army Reserve forces had been partially or fully vaccinated.
The Pentagon has said that after June 30, Guard members will not be paid by the federal government if they are active on federal status, which includes their monthly drill weekend and their two-week annual training period. Guard soldiers mobilized on the federal position and assigned to COVID-19 missions on the southern border or in various states will also have to be vaccinated or not allowed to participate or pay.
To make it more complicated, however, state Guard soldiers on active duty may not be required to be vaccinated – depending on the requirements in their states. As long as they remain in a state of state duty, they can be paid for by the state and used for state missions.
At least seven governors formally asked Austin not to reconsider or enforce vaccine mandates for members of the National Guard, and some have sued or signed off on it. In letters to governors, Austin declined, adding that the coronavirus “takes our service members out of combat, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements.” He said that the guard soldiers should either get vaccinated or lose their guard status.
Jensen and Major General Jill Faris, director of the Joint Surgeon General’s Office of the Guard, said they are working with the state’s assistant general to get progress updates, including about 20,000 soldiers who are not flat denied and no one. Have not submitted the type of discount request. Some, he said, may just be a lag in self-reporting, while others may still be inconclusive.
“One of those undefined people is our soldiers who say, OK, I have until June 30 and so I’ll have until June 30,” Jensen said.
Others may have promised to bring in vaccine paperwork, and have not yet. Still others are on the books, but haven’t reported basic training yet, so vaccinations aren’t needed until they get there. It is not clear how many are in each category.
Jensen acknowledged that if current numbers remain in place, there are concerns about the potential impact on Guard readiness in states, including whether it will affect readiness to deploy any Guard units.
“When you’re looking at 40,000 soldiers, who are potentially in that disjointed category, there are preparedness implications and concerns associated with that,” Jensen said. “It’s an important part.”
Overall, according to data obtained by the AP, about 85% of all Army Guard soldiers are fully vaccinated. Officials said that if people with one shot are counted, 87 per cent are at least partially vaccinated.
Across the country, in just one case, Guard soldiers are vaccinated at a higher rate than the general population in their state. In New Jersey alone, the percentage of vaccinated guard sellers is much lower than the state’s overall population, as data was collected earlier this month.
The three US territories – the Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico – and the District of Columbia, have all fully vaccinated more than 90% of their troops. The highest percentage is in Hawaii, with about 97%, while the lowest is Oklahoma, at just under 70%.
Guard leaders in the states run special shot programs, and hire them to provide their forces with as much information as possible.
In Tennessee, he set up small teams in the East, West, and Central regions and conducted monthly events providing vaccines to soldiers who wanted them. And every Wednesday, guard members could make an appointment for shots in Smyrna, in the middle Tennessee area. In addition, in early June he called on all soldiers who have so far refused the vaccine.
“We held a big, mass event,” Army Guard Colonel Keith Evans said. “We had all our medical providers here. So if there was a question to be cleared, a misunderstanding, a misinformation, we had all our data and we were able to provide them with all the information. ,
Evans, who is the commander of his Army Guard’s Medical Readiness Command, said he also had recruits and other leaders there who could explain what would happen if the soldiers decided not to take the shots and left the guard.
“We wanted to tell them what profit they made because these are soldiers who gave their time, served their country,” Evans said.
Officials say they believe the information campaign is working. Jensen said about 1,500 soldiers a week are getting vaccinated across the country. “We expect, as we get closer to the deadline, we will see some big growth.”