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Can Active-Duty Military Refuse COVID Vaccine?

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military covid vaccine mandate

According to a proposal announced by the Pentagon and approved by President Joe Biden, members of the US military will be required to obtain the COVID-19 vaccination beginning in September of 2021. The Pentagon issued memos to all active-duty troops informing them of this new military COVID vaccine mandate, claiming it is a vital measure to preserve military preparedness. But what happens if service members refuse the vaccine? Is that even an option? 

We can’t help but notice the potential similarities between today’s military COVID vaccine mandate and the controversial anthrax vaccine mandate back in 1998. Those who refused the anthrax vaccine paid dearly for that decision. Will those who refuse the COVID-19 shot meet the same fate? It remains to be seen if that is the case. However, The Wilkie Law Group offers the following for your consideration and stands ready to defend you and any decision you make regarding the DoD COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate. The Wilkie Law Group holds no official opinion on whether you should or should not receive the COVID-19 shot. However, we strongly believe in defending your constitutional rights under this and any other circumstance.  

COVID Vaccine Mandate

U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, sought and subsequently gained approval from President Biden regarding the requirement that military service members receive a COVID-19 vaccination by mid-September. The announcement follows a spike in coronavirus cases across military personnel—as well as the rest of the general population—as the delta variant surges. The deadline of mid-September is based on the expected approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration.

In his memo distributed to service members, Defense Secretary Austin stated, “I will seek the President’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon FDA licensure, whichever comes first. I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if I feel the need to do so.”

Military members are no stranger to vaccine requirements, as they are already obligated to receive as many as 17 different vaccinations, depending on their age and deployment location. These include the following:

  • Haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine
  • Hepatitis A vaccine
  • Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Human papillomavirus vaccine
  • Influenza vaccine (inactivated, live, attenuated, recombinant)
  • Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine
  • Meningococcal serogroups A, B, C, W, and Y vaccine
  • Pneumococcal 13-valent conjugate vaccine
  • Pneumococcal 23-valent polysaccharide vaccine
  • Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids
  • Acellular pertussis vaccine
  • Varicella vaccine
  • Zoster vaccine (recombinant)

Is the COVID Vaccine Mandatory for Military Members?

The decision for a military COVID vaccine mandate mirrors similar steps by governments throughout the world as they grapple with the extremely contagious delta strain. The strain has sparked a surge in new cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities in the United States, comparable only to the peak we saw in the winter of 2020. 

The dangers of fast spread are especially severe in the military, where service personnel live and work in close quarters in barracks and on ships. Any significant viral epidemic in the military, especially one as ruthless as the coronavirus, poses a serious risk to America’s capacity to defend itself in the event of a security crisis.

In response, the Secretary of Defense has made COVID vaccines mandatory among all service members, with few exceptions. Members with religious or applicable medical exemptions will likely be able to avoid the vaccination, should they choose to do so. Otherwise, only President Biden will be able to waive informed consent.

What Happens if a Military Member Refuses the Vaccine?

As the military COVID vaccine mandate is still very new, consequences for those who refuse the vaccination remain unclear currently. In the past, however, service officials have made clear that refusal of any mandatory vaccination may constitute “failure to obey an order” (possible violation of Article 92 of the U.C.M.J.) or may be punishable under other Articles of the U.C.M.J. 

If the mandate is anything like the one set for federal employees of the government, members must either receive the vaccine or succumb to frequent COVID-19 testing. Federal workers were also required to complete a form acknowledging that a false statement could be punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both and can result in additional administrative action such as termination. 

As of right now, vaccination rates vary widely among military branches. Over one million service members are fully vaccinated, while nearly 250,000 have received only one dose of the vaccination, according to the Pentagon. Of the branches, the Army possesses the most members who are fully vaccinated. The Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps follow in number, in percentage vaccinated.

Another possible consequence of refusing the vaccine is that a service member could be found not deployable or “fit for duty” in the sense that no vaccine could preclude you from being deployed overseas, traveling to career course, MOS school, or even possible traveling OCONUS for military purposes. 

Parallels to Anthrax Vaccine Mandate

This is not the first time a vaccine has been controversially mandated among military members. It draws very similar parallels to the mandated anthrax inoculation in 1998, where the DoD launched a program that required all troops to receive the vaccination. However, many troops refused the anthrax vaccine, citing perceived health conditions or religious objections. Those that did refuse paid a high price for it.

Within the first eight years of the Pentagon’s anthrax vaccination program, punishments for refusal were varied. Some service members received nonjudicial punishment, some received court-martial, others lost rank and pay, and some even faced brig time and a punitive discharge. Since then, a number of service members who received punishment for their refusal have sought record correction, but only a handful have succeeded. Some of those cases are still pending before military record correction boards more than 20 years later.

If the COVID vaccination mandate continues to mirror that of the anthrax vaccine, those military members who refuse the shot may opt to quit, be forced out, or suffer repercussions such as lost rank and pay, or even brig time. They may also have an opportunity to seek correction of their military record in the future, but no one can predict what a Service Discharge Review Board will think of such a refusal at some point in the future — only time will tell. 

Vaccines in the Military: Should They Be Mandatory?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, stated in March that service members who refuse the vaccine are “propagating” the coronavirus outbreak. “Instead of being part of the solution,” he said, “you are innocently and inadvertently being part of the problem by not getting vaccinated.”

On the other side of things, Tennessee Rep. Mark Green claims that a vaccine requirement among military members, especially one that is not yet FDA-approved, is immoral. He says of the mandate: “Wearing our country’s uniform does not mean our service members sign away the right to make personal medical decisions.”

Clearly, there are strong arguments on both sides of the matter. There is no question about that. The real question is whether active-duty military members can refuse the vaccine without the grounds of a medical or religious exemption, and if they do so, what will their consequences be?

Call Aden Wilkie – The Military Defense Attorney That Will Fight for YOU

Though the repercussions of refusing the COVID-19 vaccine in the military are not yet certain, if it is anything like the anthrax vaccination initiative, one can only expect that severe punishments could result. If that is the case, the need for a strong, qualified military defense attorney is sure to increase significantly. That’s where the Devil Dog Defender comes in. 

Aden Wilkie of the The Wilkie Law Group knows firsthand the power and reach of the government. As a veteran of the Marine Corps, he became acutely aware of the many flaws within the military justice system and as a result, feels a strong desire to help people who are at such a legal disadvantage when they are most vulnerable. 

When you raised your hand and swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, you did not give up all your personal rights and freedoms. In the same way the government must have legally articulable reasons to draw fluids, DNA, or hair from your body, they should also arguably articulate the legal basis upon which to introduce a substance into your body. That said, this question is legally complicated and one you should not consider and decide on your own. You need to seek out an experienced military defense attorney to make the most well-informed decision you can and have the right person there to have your back in dealing with and facing the consequences of such a decision.  

If you face military punishment because of your refusal of the military COVID vaccine mandate, it is important that you have qualified legal counsel on your side. The Wilkie Law Group is based in Jacksonville, North Carolina and provides services to military members in Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, and a number of other bases, camps, stations, and posts around the country (though travel fees may apply). Call Aden Wilkie, the Devil Dog Defender, at 910-333-9626 to get someone on your side who knows how to fight for you and your rights.

Hire The Best

It is crucial for you to have an experienced criminal defense and military attorney on your side. Contact us today at 910-333-9626 for a consultation and decide for yourself if The Wilkie Law Group is the best choice for you.

Jacksonville, NC Military & Criminal Defense Attorney