The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As Army deadline nears, about 60,000 part-time soldiers unvaccinated

Nearly 12 percent of Army Guard and 10 percent of Army Reserve soldiers have not received any vaccine dose

Rhode Island Army National Guard Sgt. Juan Gomez at a coronavirus vaccination site in Cranston, R.I., on June 10, 2021. (David Goldman/AP)

Roughly 60,000 Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers remain unvaccinated against the coronavirus a week before the service’s deadline, according to Army data, highlighting the persistent struggle for commanders to bring soldiers under compliance.

Soldiers in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard were given until this coming Thursday to receive the vaccine, seek an exemption or face punishment, including removal from the service. The deadline, set last year, is about seven months longer than any other service member in the U.S. military, allowing commanders extra time to ensure their soldiers followed an order from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Army leaders fell short, even with the extra cushion. Nearly 12 percent of Army Guard and 10 percent of Army Reserve soldiers have not received any vaccine dose, according to National Guard Bureau and Army data. About two-thirds of the unvaccinated soldiers are in the Army National Guard, according to force size numbers provided in October.

By contrast, Navy and Marine Corps reservists remain unvaccinated at rates of about 9 and 7 percent, respectively, following a deadline in late December.

U.S. begins vaccinating young kids against the coronavirus

Defense officials have cautioned that vaccinating reservists would be more challenging than active duty troops.

Reservists serve one weekend a month and have at least two more weeks of annual training, giving them fewer opportunities to get vaccinated at military health facilities and fewer encounters with leaders to press them on the regulation. Reserve vaccine rates may also be an undercount, officials have said, because some reservists may get immunized in the civilian health system but not report their status.

About 3,400 troops have been removed from the military over vaccine refusal, Military Times reported Wednesday. Army officials have said they are waiting for the Thursday deadline to pass before disclosing refusal numbers among reservist ranks.

Nearly half of the 95 U.S. service members who have died of the coronavirus during the pandemic were in the Army Reserve and Guard, Military Times reported. Military analysts have said the Army’s policy of a much longer deadline did not provide enough urgency for reservists, even as deaths rapidly escalated last year and the delta variant killed large swaths of Americans.