Forced Vaccinations in the ArmyApril 13, 2020
Soldiers often wonder about forced vaccinations in the Army. This is a topical concern.
*This article addresses situations where a Soldier is forced to take a vaccine. A Soldier can apply for an exemption prior to being put in this situation. For religious exemptions, the process is discussed at this link. For medical or administrative exemptions, the process is discussed at this link.
At some point in the future, there will be a vaccination for COVID-19 (corona virus). As with other medications, the Army will likely administer the vaccine to Soldiers quickly. Inevitably, Soldiers will wonder if they can refuse the vaccine. The answer is, generally, that they cannot. Forced vaccinations in the Army can occur.
The governing regulation on forced vaccinations in the Army is AR 600-20, paragraph 5-4. If a Soldier denies a vaccination, that Soldier’s Commander must ensure the Soldier understands the purpose of the vaccine, ensure the Soldier has been advised of the possibility that the disease may be naturally present in a possible area of operation or may be used as a biological weapon against the United States, and ensure that the Soldier is educated about the vaccine and has been able to discuss any objections with medical authorities.
After a Commander does the above, he or she has to counsel the Soldier, in writing, that he or she is legally required to be immunized and that if he or she continues to refuse the vaccine, he or she will be legally ordered to do so and that failure to obey will be punished under the UCMJ.
In this situation, if the Soldier still refuses the vaccination, the Command has one of two options (or both). The first is to not administer the vaccination, but punish the Soldier for failure to obey a lawful order. The punishment could range anywhere from a letter of reprimand all the way up to a Court-Martial.
The second option is to forcefully administer the vaccination to the Soldier. The authority to forcefully administer a vaccination to a Soldier is the General Court-Martial Convening Authority (i.e. the Commanding General). This responsibility can be delegated. If he/she determines that there is a threat of a naturally occurring disease or use of biological weapons is reasonably possible, a Soldier may be given a vaccine against their will. During the vaccination, personnel can use force necessary to administer the vaccine.