SALT LAKE CITY — As of late January, about 12% of Utah National Guard soldiers and airmen had not yet received any shots of the COVID-19 vaccine despite mandates to do so, according to a report obtained by FOX 13 News.
One hundred forty-eight personnel, which is about 2% of the force, are listed as having “refused” to be vaccinated, the report says. Of those, all but one are in the Utah Army National Guard.
“They may face adverse consequences,” said Lindsay Cohn, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College who has been monitoring vaccinations in the military, “like not getting promoted, not having that drill time counted, possibly being administratively separated.”
A Utah National Guard spokeswoman declined interview requests, but said in an email that the Utah guard is following Defense Department policy and that any personnel going into long-term care facilities are vaccinated. The Utah National Guard this week announced it was sending troops into such facilities to ease civilian staffing shortages.
The spokeswoman did not say whether any personnel have been discharged or disciplined.
U.S. military personnel were already required to receive a slew of vaccinations against various diseases. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during the summer announced mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for military personnel, too. He gave the Air National Guard a deadline of December; Army National Guard soldiers must be vaccinated by the end of June.
The Marine Corps, Air Force and Army have all begun discharging active-duty personnel who are refusing vaccinations.
FOX 13 News, through the Freedom of Information Act, obtained a Utah National Guard force report dated January 20. It said 10 exemptions had been approved – all in the Air National Guard.
Another 55 exemptions were pending in the Air National Guard and 510 were pending in the Army.
While about 6,500 Utah National Guard personnel have been vaccinated, Cohn noted that’s a lesser rate than the active-duty branches. The Defense Department on Dec. 21 said about 98% of all active-duty personnel had received the shots.
Cohn, who emphasized her views are not necessarily those of the Naval War College’s, said the military views immunizations as a health issue, and keeping personnel healthy is the first component of keeping them ready for missions.
Cohn said there is some history of the federal government using soldiers as test subjects that may be a factor in vaccine refusal, but most personnel refusing appear to be doing so for the same political reasons as civilians who refuse. And that creates an order problem in the U.S. military.
“They're in an institution that that expects them to trust the institution,” Cohn said. “The whole concept of good order and discipline, of obeying orders, believing that they are being prepared to do what they're asked to do.
“This is really important for the for the good functioning of a military.”
There have been a few legal challenges to the new military vaccination requirements. Thus far, none have succeeded.
Utah is not one of the states suing to stop National Guard vaccination mandates. Jennifer Napier-Pearce, a spokeswoman for Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, on Thursday pointed to a statement she issued on his behalf in December.
“The Utah National Guard has a long tradition of being ready to quickly respond to emergencies and mobilizations. Gov. Spencer Cox is in close coordination with the Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Michael Turley, to ensure the Utah National Guard is able to meet readiness requirements for any state or federal mission. Gov. Cox supports our state’s military leaders in this effort, including the medical readiness standards for the Utah National Guard as an important part of keeping our service members safe and ready for any challenge they are called upon to accomplish.”