Hundreds of Fort Bragg soldiers miss COVID vaccine deadline, could be discharged

State - Regional

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – Hundreds of soldiers at Fort Bragg could see their careers come to an end for missing the Army’s COVID vaccine deadline.

Officials at Fort Bragg tell CBS17 that about 96% of soldiers met today’s deadline and are fully vaccinated, but added at least 350 refused the shot.

“In all likelihood, yes, they will end up being discharged,” said Lt. Colonel Owen Price, Chief of Force Health Protection, XVIII Airborne Corps. “The other piece to that is their records have been flagged and so they’re not able to be promoted and in some cases, they’re not able to reenlist and so they would have to exit the Army in different ways other than being separated.”

Price called the situation frustrating and said the majority who refused the shot are junior soldiers with less time in the service. 

“Since we started vaccinating, almost a year ago today, I’ve spent a lot of time providing education and to still have people who have latched onto this misinformation and are unwilling to come off that position to the point where they’re willing to exit the service because of it, it’s a little bit frustrating and unfortunate,” he said. 

Around 900 soldiers requested permanent medical or religious exemptions. While medical exemptions are more commonly approved, Price said many of the requests for the COVID vaccine don’t fit the criteria. 

He explained, “At least in this case, I haven’t seen any come back approved because the reasons the soldiers are requesting them for, they don’t match up with any of the indications for the vaccine, which are very, very few.”

“At least in my experience, it’s very uncommon for religious exemptions to be approved. What it comes down to is a protection of the force issue and having someone who’s unvaccinated, particularly in a deployed setting, is a risk to the overall force and mission. So that gets weighed heavily in those decisions,” Price added.

The new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prevents dishonorable discharge for refusing the COVID vaccine. Soldiers are likely to either receive an honorable discharge or general discharge under honorable conditions.

When asked if the COVID booster shots will be mandated for service members, Price said, “Those are still provided under the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) through the FDA. Until that’s fully licensed, I don’t personally think they’ll be mandated, but that’s certainly something that’s being considered now.”

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