The U.S. Army announced Wednesday it will begin discharging soldiers who have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a news release, the Army said effective immediately, commanders are to "initiate involuntary administrative separation proceedings against any Soldier who has refused the COVID-19 vaccination order and does not have an approved or pending exemption request."
The statement says the order applies to regular Army soldiers, active-duty Army reservists and cadets.
The directive was issued by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, who said in the statement, "Army readiness depends on Soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation's wars. Unvaccinated Soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness."
The statement said service members separated due to their refusal of the COVID-19 vaccination order will not be eligible for involuntary separation pay and may be subject to recoupment of any unearned special or incentive pays.
Some Republican lawmakers have expressed misgivings about the vaccine mandate for U.S. service members. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, last week tweeted that "millions of taxpayer $ will be spent discharging unvaccinated troops & recruiting replacements."
Unvaccinated soldiers who have requested medical exemptions or religious accommodations are temporarily exempt from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement while their requests are under review. Soldiers retiring on or before July 1, 2022, will be given a temporary exemption.
The Army said that as of Jan. 26, 2022, 96% of its active-duty personnel and 79% of its reservists were fully vaccinated. As of the same date, of the 709 permanent medical exemptions applied for, six were approved, 656 were disapproved and 53 were pending.
Similarly, of the 2,910 religious exemptions requested, none had been approved, 266 were disapproved and 2,644 were pending.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.