For more than a year, the United States Navy required COVID-19 vaccines for deployment. The Navy now cleared the demand and will no longer require individuals to get vaccinated to be considered deployed.
"Commanders should seek advice from medical providers regarding medical readiness of personnel to inform deployment and other operational mission decisions," announced the Navy’s new guidance proposed on February 16.
"COVID-19 vaccination status shall not be a consideration in assessing individual service member suitability for deployment or other operational missions," they said.
The vaccination requirement was implemented for National Defense Authorization Act in 2022 and was dropped on February 16. The vaccine mandate has been controversial in the U.S., especially with Republicans doubtful of the effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccines despite the CDC's reassurance. With the military requiring many other vaccines, such as the annual flu vaccine, COVID-19 became another mandatory vaccination step to be deployed.
Due to the vaccine mandate, several lawsuits were filed by sailors who did not approve of the Navy's COVID-19 vaccine requirement. In March 2022, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the Navy was allowed to authorize the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, approved by the Pentagon in 2022, was a type of vaccine that did not use fetal tissue in the development or production, which was a vital argument made by religious opponents.
In a statement released on February 16 by the First Liberty Institute, the lawyers against the Navy stated that, following the Navy's change in deployment policy, they were "still evaluating the impact of this policy on our Navy SEAL clients and more than 4000 class members."
Initially, the lawsuit was brought by a group of Navy SEALs but was later widened to include every sailor who refused to take vaccines.
"An encouraging step toward ensuring the Navy does not continue to discriminate against sailors who sought religious exemptions from the Covid vaccine requirement," said the legal team from First Liberty Institute.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday said, "Commanders retain the authority to implement Health Protection Measures at any time or manner deemed necessary in support of operational safety and effectiveness, and where necessary, to restrict movement of service members in order to comply with host nation quarantine regulations."
"I would tell you that we will continue to monitor very closely our fleet concentration areas with respect to COVID levels… particularly if there’s a new strain of COVID, we want to make sure that we have enough of the supplies on board like masks and those kinds of things that if we have to revert back to the way we’re doing things before the vaccine,” shared Gilday.
"Commanders at all levels are directed to balance operational employment with the health and safety of their units in accordance with current USD (P&R) Force Health Protection Guidance," said the NAVADMIN, which are navy specific administrative messages.
NAVADMIN concluded that despite the requirement drop, sailors not vaccinated against COVID-19 might be restricted in certain countries with COVID-19 restrictions. All commanders must abide by rules according to domestic and foreign quarantine and COVID-19 requirements. The new guidance does not say whether sailors who were dropped due to COVID-19 vaccine refusal will be returned to service, and also does not include when sailors assigned to shore duty for being considered non-deployable will be reappointed.
Navy commanders will still need to announce hospitalizations or deaths caused by infectious diseases, but will not need to report COVID-19 cases. The service detached 1,639 sailors from active duty, 402 reservists, and 32 sailors in their first 180 days of naval service by the end of November 2022.
- MyNavyHR. U.S. NAVY COVID-19 STANDARDIZED OPERATIONAL GUIDANCE
- United States Navy. COVID-19 Updates
- First Liberty Institute. Statement from First Liberty Institute Regarding Navy’s Updated Vaccine Guidance