NORFOLK, Va. — In a move that will have ripple effects throughout the fleet, the Navy reverses course on a policy that was in place for more than a year.
According to newly published administrative guidance, "COVID-19 vaccination status shall not be a consideration in assessing individual service member suitability for deployment or other operational missions."
The guidance makes it clear there is no distinction between sailors who are vaccinated and those who are non-vaccinated.
"We can't recruit people to fill our armed forces. So, the vaccine mandate became an obstacle to recruiting. I think that's why it was ultimately dropped," said Sean Timmons, a partner and military law attorney in the Houston office of the Tully Rinckey law firm.
In an interview on Tuesday with 13News Now, Timmons said the change is a step in the right direction.
"I think the Navy is doing the right thing because they're just enforcing the National Defense Authorization Act's mandates," he said.
House Armed Services Committee Vice Chair Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Virginia, 1st District) said the change is" a welcomed announcement."
He added: "This mandate harmed military recruitment and undermined the readiness of our forces. Fortunately, now all able-bodied Americans who wish to serve in our Navy will be able to do so."
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) is Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee.
He said: "Keeping servicemembers healthy and safe is critical for our military readiness and national security."
Kaine added: "Although there is no longer a COVID vaccine requirement for our military personnel, I encourage all Americans, especially our servicemembers, to get vaccinated so they can stay healthy and keep those around them healthy."
The change in policy does not include any mention of reinstating sailors who were separated from the Navy because they refused to get COVID-19 vaccinations during the mandate.
According to the Department of Defense website, 96 military members have died from COVID-19 complications. More than 2 million troops are considered to be fully vaccinated.