Twenty sailors have been booted from the Navy for refusing the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, the service announced Wednesday.

The sailors — who are the first the service has separated due to vaccine refusal — were all completing initial training periods within their first 180 days of active duty at the time of separation, meaning they were considered entry-level separations, according to the Navy.

The Navy said a total of 5,268 active duty and 2,980 Navy Reserve sailors remain unvaccinated as of Jan. 5. The service has so far approved eight permanent medical exemptions, 242 temporary medical exemptions and 74 administrative exemptions for active-duty sailors.

Among those in the Navy Reserve, the service has approved nine temporary medical exemptions and 31 administrative exemptions.

More than 3,000 active-duty sailors have submitted religious exemption requests, along with 691 Navy Reserve sailors. But no religious exemptions have been approved yet.

However, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Navy from penalizing 35 Navy SEALs and other special forces members for rejecting the COVID-19 vaccine due to religious reasons.

A hospital corpsman
stages intravenous medication for later use aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort while the ship is moored in New York. Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

“The Navy servicemembers in this case seek to vindicate the very freedoms they have sacrificed so much to protect,” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote Monday. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides the government no license to abrogate those freedoms. There is no COVID-19 exception to the First Amendment. There is no military exclusion from our Constitution.”

Active duty sailors had until Nov. 28 to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and sailors in the Navy Reserve had until Dec. 28 to do so.

The Navy unveiled discharge plans for sailors who rejected the COVID-19 vaccine in October, and stood up the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority to oversee the separation process. Sailors who remain unvaccinated and do not have an approved exemption also could lose out on education benefits, promotions and bonus pay.

Navy leaders have said it will likely take more than six months to separate sailors unvaccinated sailors, although the bulk of separations are expected in the first half of 2022. Even so, the service has said it wants to keep as many sailors as possible.

“Let me be clear up front: We want every sailor to receive the vaccine and stay Navy,” Rear Adm. James Waters III, director of military personnel, plans and policy, told reporters in December. “And if a sailor gets their shot, we will honor that and make every effort to retain them.”

At least 17 sailors have died due to complications from COVID-19.

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