The Marine Corps has granted two religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first branch to do so.
As of Wednesday, two out of 3,212 religious exemption requests have been granted for the vaccine, that all active duty Marines were required to receive by Nov. 28.
The religious exemptions are not only the first given by the military for the COVID-19 vaccine, but the first religious exemption to a vaccine the Marine Corps has given in at least 10 years.
The Marine Corps has received 3,350 requests for the COVID-19 vaccine and has processed a total of 3,212.
“Due to privacy considerations, we are unable to discuss the specifics of any individual requests,” Capt. Andrew Wood said in a Thursday email.
Religious exemptions go through a long chain of review before a final decision is made on them, Wood said.
The initial request is reviewed by the first lieutenant colonel commander, colonel commander and commanding general in the requesting Marine’s chain of command before being sent off to deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, Wood said.
Within Manpower and Reserve Affairs, a three-person panel reviews each request before making a recommendation to the deputy commandant.
If the request is denied, the Marine who initially filed the request has the right to appeal to the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, who then personally reviews each appeal before making a final decision.
“At every step, each accommodation request is given full consideration with respect to the facts and circumstances submitted in the request. In each case, every reviewer weighs the compelling government interest against the individual’s request and the circumstances of their situation,” Wood said in a statement.
Wood went on to add: “The Marine Corps has a compelling government interest in mission accomplishment at the individual, unit, and organizational levels. The necessary elements of mission accomplishment include: (1) military readiness; (2) unit cohesion; (3) good order and discipline; and (4) health and safety. Adjudication Authorities pay particular attention to how religious accommodation request determinations will impact the Marine’s and unit’s ability to accomplish the mission, and consider the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.”
The Marine Corps has been the least vaccinated force in the Department of Defense since vaccine mandates were first sent out.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger blamed the hesitancy on online misinformation when talking in early November.
“You have to ask each individual Marines their reason why,” Berger said on Nov. 4, at the Aspen Security Forum.
“But I think we’re challenged by disinformation … that still swirls around about where the genesis, how did this vaccine get approved, is it safe is it ethical ― all that swirls around on the internet and they see all that they read all that,” the commandant added.
As of Wednesday, 97% of the active duty Marine Corps is partially or fully vaccinated while 87% of the Marine Reserves is fully or partially vaccinated.
All Marines who fail to receive a religious, administrative or medical exemption to the vaccine will be separated from the Marine Corps, though language in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act ensures those Marines will receive either an honorable or general under honorable conditions discharge.
Most medical or administrative exemptions are temporary, Wood said in an email. So far 943 Marines have approved administrative or medical exemptions.