The Marine Corps has granted two religious waivers for the COVID-19 vaccine, making it the first branch to do so.
On Wednesday, two of 3,212 requests for religious waivers were granted for the vaccine, which all active-duty Marines were required to receive by Nov. 28.
The religious waivers are not only the first to be given by the military for the COVID-19 vaccine, but also the first religious waiver for a vaccine the Marine Corps has given in at least 10 years.
The Marine Corps has received 3,350 applications for the COVID-19 vaccine and has processed a total of 3,212.
“Due to privacy concerns, we are unable to discuss the details of individual requests,” said Capt. Andrew Wood in an email from Thursday.
Religious exemptions go through a long series of assessments before a final decision is made, Wood said.
The initial request will be reviewed by the first lieutenant colonel commander, the colonel commander and the commanding general in the requesting Marine’s chain of command before being sent to the deputy commander for manpower and reserves, Wood said.
Within Manpower and Reserve Affairs, a three-person panel reviews each request before making a recommendation to the Deputy Commander.
If the request is denied, the Marine who initially made the request has the right to appeal to the Assistant Commander of the Marine Corps, who will then personally review each appeal before making a final decision.
“At every step, every housing request takes into account the facts and circumstances submitted in the request. In any case, each reviewer weighs the imperative government interest against the individual’s request and the circumstances of his situation,” Wood said in a statement.
Wood added: “The Marine Corps has a compelling government interest in accomplishing missions at the individual, unit and organizational levels. The necessary elements to accomplish a mission include: (1) military readiness; (2) unit cohesion; (3) good order and discipline; and (4) health and safety. The arbitration authorities are paying particular attention to how the determinations of religious accommodation requests will affect the ability of the Marines and the unit to accomplish the mission, and are considering the least restrictive means of furthering that imperative government interest.”
The Marine Corps is the least vaccinated force in the Defense Department since the first vaccine mandates were sent.
Commander of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, attributed the hesitation to misinformation on the Internet when he spoke in early November.
“You have to ask each individual Marine why,” Berger said: on November 4 at the Aspen Security Forum.
“But I think we’re being challenged by misinformation… that’s still swirling around about where it originated, how this vaccine was approved, is it safe, is it ethical – anything that’s floating around on the internet and they see everything they read all that,” the commander added.
As of Wednesday, 97% of the active duty corps have been partially or fully vaccinated, while 87% of marine reserves have been fully or partially vaccinated.
All Marines who do not receive a religious, administrative, or medical exemption from the vaccine will be separated from the Marine Corps, although the language in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 ensures those Marines receive either an honorable or general discharge on honorable terms.
Most medical or administrative exemptions are temporary, Wood said in an email. So far, 943 Marines have approved administrative or medical exemptions.