The British Army plans to discipline service members who refuse to get vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19). According to documents obtained by the Daily Mail, troops who decline the COVID-19 vaccine may be considered “unfit to soldier.” However, the military branch’s plan to sanction troops rejecting the vaccine contradicts government guidance banning “no jab, no work” policies.

The orders believed to have been sent during the week of May 16 were addressed to two branches of the British Army. Guidance sent to the Royal Regiment of Artillery and Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers said that any soldier “refusing to have the [COVID-19 vaccine] is to be educated by the chain of command and any rumors quashed.”

Furthermore, the order elaborated that soldiers who refuse vaccination a second time “may be deemed as unfit to solider and dealt with accordingly.” The mandate defended COVID-19 vaccination as “a requirement to deploy on operations [or] exercises.”

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) said it is working with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to ensure service members and government personnel are vaccinated – alongside the rest of the U.K.’s population. It added that British troops stationed at bases and operational areas overseas are included in the immunization drive.

“We are committed to keeping our staff, their families and communities safe at home and overseas, and all our personnel are being vaccinated in line with national priority guidelines,” the MoD remarked.

The military order addressed to the two branches appears to be contradictory. The British Army is prohibited by law to mandate vaccinations for soldiers. However, being “unfit to soldier” is considered an offense under the U.K. Armed Forces Act.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, leading military lawyer Lewis Cherry said the order’s tone may be considered similar to threats or bullying. “Unless this becomes a compulsory injection, it remains a medical procedure that requires informed consent,” he commented.

US military also following a similar approach against service members declining vaccines

The U.K. government warned private employers that any policies mandating workers to get inoculated before they can work are illegal. The prime minister’s official spokesperson Max Blain reiterated: “Taking a [COVID-19] vaccine is not mandatory and it would be discriminatory to force somebody to take one.” Meanwhile, the British government also advised public sector organizations to take a “softer approach” on their employees refusing vaccinations.

The military order obtained by the Daily Mail mirrored similar policies in the United States Army. The new policies, which include restricted movement and limited access to facilities, appear to be targeted at service members declining COVID-19 immunization. While vaccinations in the U.S. Army remain voluntary, the orders appear to be subtle ways to force military personnel to get vaccinated. 

Two military installations in the U.S. have put these new policies in place. Fort Drum Commander Maj. Gen. Brian J. Mennes released a March 17 memorandum outlining a number of privileges available to vaccinated troops. According to the memo, fully vaccinated service members are not required to isolate themselves after traveling and returning to their post. They can also train in both indoor and outdoor settings without masks, but indoor physical training would only be allowed “without unvaccinated personnel present.”

Mennes’s memo also said vaccinated personnel planning to take a leave of absence would only need the approval of an O-3 officer such as a captain or company commander. On the other hand, unvaccinated military personnel would have to secure leave approvals from a higher ranking O-5 officer such as a lieutenant colonel or battalion commander. They are also mandated to submit an exception to policy document alongside their leave application.

The commander of Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division meanwhile announced that service members need to show a vaccination card before they can enter a military dining facility. This new regulation would impact a huge percentage of lower-ranked enlisted soldiers who do not have access to kitchens in the barracks. Most lower-income military personnel rely on the dining facilities while on duty or training rotations.

The measures at Fort Bragg and Fort Drum appear to address vaccine hesitancy among military personnel. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Director of Operations Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro said during a February 2021 congressional hearing that many in the armed forces do not avail of COVID-19 vaccinations as they are not mandatory.

Nevertheless, he remarked that military personnel ought to get immunized against the Wuhan coronavirus. “We believe that, of course, the [COVID-19] vaccine is the right thing to do. [We] need to continue to educate our force to help them understand [its] benefits,” Taliaferro told lawmakers.

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