U.S. Navy Ramps Up Vaccinations, But Leaves the Choice to Sailors

fleet forces command
Vaccination under way in the medical bay aboard the amphib USS San Antonio

Published Feb 1, 2021 8:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy is rolling out vaccinations across its worldwide force, from Norfolk to Rota to Yokosuka, and it is encouraging sailors to sign up. However, even though vaccination offers operational advantages, the Navy does not plan to require it - at least, not for now. 

"Drugs and vaccines have to be approved by the FDA to ensure only safe and effective products are available to the American public. In situations like this, when there is good scientific reason to believe a product is safe and is likely to treat or prevent disease – which there is in this case - the FDA authorized its emergency use under specific circumstances," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday. "Vaccines authorized for emergency use are not mandatory. Bottom line – the FDA has evaluated the vaccine as safe, but it will remain voluntary until official FDA approval."

There will be no negative consequences for declining the vaccine at this time, Gilday said, and sailors who do not wish to get it will still have normal leave and liberty privileges. However, the Navy encourages every sailor to strongly consider getting the vaccine - not just for themselves, but for their shipmates. 40,000 sailors have received it so far, with little to no side effects reported. 

Even though the vaccination campaign is in full swing, mask requirements and other infection control measures will remain in effect for the forseeable future. The Navy will continue to evaluate the need for mask and quarantine rules as the situation evolves. 

Fleet Forces Command, the Navy's personnel authority, is responsible for overseeing the effort to distribute vaccines for the service's 1.2 million people. It has set up a dedicated team to coordinate the process. 

“It’s an innovative and motivated team,” said  Rear Adm. Doug Beal, vice commander of Fleet Forces Command and the head of the distribution effort. “These professionals use the skills that make them good warfighters to design and implement a daily plan that ensures each command is ready to receive vaccine doses as soon as we get them. We are excited to be working with commanders who are leaning way forward to develop strategies and processes that will get doses safely to the fleet instead of having to bring the fleet to the vaccinations.”

In some cases, the team has moved vaccination operations on board a warship, rather than requiring the sailors to disembark and transit to a treatment site. The crew of the amphib USS San Antonio went first with this method on January 11, receiving vaccination on board. 

“The myths are certainly out there, but the science indicates that the vaccines are safe and very effective,” said Beal. “I do this job because I love and respect my shipmates. Taking care of our sailors and their families is the number one way to ensure combat effectiveness, and the team knows that the sooner we get the fleet vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to normal at sea and at home.