Vaccine Exemptions in the MilitaryNovember 30, 2020
Vaccine exemptions in the military can be given to Servicemembers. AR 40-562, BUMEDISNT 6230.15B, AFI 48-110, and CG COMDTINST M6230.4G govern vaccine exemptions in each Service, and are jointly available at this link (reference paragraph 2-6). Vaccine exemptions have become much more topical of late, because of the impending COVID-19 vaccine that will inevitably be issued to Servicemembers.
There are two types of vaccine exemptions in the military that could be given to a Servicemember. The first is a medical exemption. Health care providers will determine if a Servicemember should be exempt from a certain vaccine. An exemption may be temporary or permanent. Some possible reasons for an exemption could be underlying health conditions, evidence of immunity to a certain disease (including a documented infection), or previous negative reactions to vaccines. Any Servicemember who thinks they qualify for a medical exemption to a certain vaccine should be proactive and consult their primary care manager as soon as possible.
The other type of vaccine exemption in the military is administrative in nature. Some examples of this could include if the Servicemember is 180 days away from retirement/separation or for religious reasons. If a Servicemember is 180 days away from retirement or separation, he/she may still be required to take the immunization because of mission requirements or geographical virus threats, as determined by his/her Commander.
For religious exemptions, each Service has a slightly different policy. The Army is governed by AR 600-20, and the process is explained more at this link. For the Navy and Marine Corps, exemptions are granted on a case-by-case basis by the Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. For the Air Force, permanent exemptions for religious reasons are not granted; however the MAJCOM Commander can grant temporary exemptions. For the Coast Guard, CG-122 is the designated approval and revocation authority for religious immunization exemptions. If a Servicemember is granted an exemption, he/she will be counseled by a doctor about the possible dangers and by his/her Commander about possible restrictions in assignments/deployments.
This Article was written by Attorney Matthew Barry.