Legal expert, retired service members weigh in on Navy vaccine requirements

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The U.S. Navy is now asking its sailors and service members to get the COVID-19 vaccine shot or risk being expelled. The Navy said in an administrative message published this week that it’s requiring the vaccine in order to “maximize readiness.”

“You don’t want to have a military group compromised,” Action News Jax law and safety expert Dale Carson pointed out.

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The vaccine deadline for active duty service members is technically Nov. 28, but they must receive their last vaccine dose by Nov. 14, giving the vaccine two weeks to take full effect.

“I don’t think it’s right for the government to require that,” said retired Navy service member Russell Grim.

Grim says he supports the vaccine.

“It’s a good thing. My wife and I, we got ours in February.”

However, regarding the requirement, Grim says, “I don’t agree with that.”

There are two possible types of exemptions: a legitimate religious or medical reason, which the Chief of Naval Personnel would need to approve.

Carson explains the courts cede more authority to the government than they would a private company. “The courts have often ruled that you’re required to do what they’re told, and when you go on board, you’re going to get a panel of shots anyway,” he said.

Another retired Navy service member who spoke to Action News Jax says these are different times.

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“I was getting the shots that I’d never heard of before; cholera, things like this, on deployments to foreign countries, but the shots had been proven over years,” Jean Bedford recalled of his days working as an air traffic controller.

The Navy message says that moving forward, those who refuse to get vaccinated won’t be promoted, allowed to reenlist, or execute orders. They could also be subject to a general discharge with honorable conditions, unless they have a pending or approved exemption within a medical or religious context.

“I don’t really believe it should be a discharge,” Grim said.

“I’m not talking about, ‘I don’t want to do what the government says,’” Carson emphasized.

Even a lawsuit may not get far. “The hearings may ultimately result in the matter being thrown out of court,” he added.

Currently, the Navy says 98% of its active duty service members have been partially or fully vaccinated.

Bedford thinks these exemptions should apply, and hopes the Navy doesn’t lose sailors in the process. “It makes me feel bad, because all the sailors that we have‚ we’ve got some good Navy, and we need to keep what we have,” he said.