WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Marine Corps has approved its first two COVID-19 vaccine exemptions for religious reasons, something no other military service has done so far.
The two exemptions are the first to be approved by the Corps in 10 years, the Marines announced Friday.
So far, the Marine Corps received 3,350 requests for religious exemptions to the mandatory vaccine on Thursday and denied 3,212. No information on the two specific approvals was provided, for confidentiality reasons.
The services have been criticized for their failure to grant religious exemptions, with members of Congress, the military and the public questioning whether review processes have been fair. Overall, service chiefs said religious exemptions to any of the many vaccines required by the military over the years were very rare. Troops must obtain up to 17 different vaccines.
In a statement, the Marines said that “all current exemption requests are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Each request will be thoroughly reviewed with respect to the facts and circumstances presented in the request. “
According to the Marines, exemption requests are first reviewed by commanders and then sent to a three-person council for manpower and reserve affairs. The council makes a recommendation and the deputy manpower commander makes the decision. Marines may appeal any denial to the Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps.
All military services said decisions are based not only on the individual request, but also on its impact on the unit, its mission and readiness, and the health and safety of other troops. The Navy and Marine Corps have said unvaccinated service members are not allowed to deploy to sea on ships, where infections can spread more easily.
The Marines, however, have also vastly outpaced other military services in firing troops who refuse to be vaccinated. As of Thursday, the Corps fired 351 Marines for refusing fire.
The Air Force said earlier this week it had laid off 87 Airmen, while the Navy laid off 20 junior sailors and the Army pulled no soldiers from service for refusing the vaccine.
All departments have granted other medical and administrative exemptions, which are much more common.
As of this week, all military services claim that at least 97% of their forces have obtained at least one shot.