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COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates for Military and Law Enforcement

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

In August of 2021, the Secretary of Defense announced that the Secretaries of the Military Departments will require full vaccination of all military servicemembers, which includes both active-duty and members of the Ready Reserves. According to the Secretary of Defense, a servicemember is fully vaccinated two weeks following the second dose of a two-dose vaccine and two weeks following a one-dose vaccine, regardless of whether the servicemember was previously infected with COVID-19.

This mandate has significant implications for servicemembers. In the week that the announcement was made regarding mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for servicemembers, only 58% of active duty and reserve members had at least one dose of the vaccine, according to Military Times. Military Times also noted that the service with the most vaccinated number of people in June was the Navy at 73%, while the Marine Corps were the least at 58%.

Requirements for COVID-19 Vaccinations Vary by Service

The different services have set different dates on when the vaccines must be completed:

Other service branches have set other deadlines for their members to be fully vaccinated.

Exemptions to Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Exemptions may be available for some servicemembers; an opportunity to apply for a medical or administrative exemption within a certain time limit is permitted. However, refusal to complete the vaccinations or successfully obtain an exemption within the allotted time may subject servicemembers to a full range of disciplinary actions.

Mandatory Vaccinations for Federal Employees

The military is not alone at being subjected to mandatory vaccinations; federal employees are also required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Law enforcement agencies across the United States are under pressure to get vaccinated, regardless whether they wish to receive the vaccine or not.

City leaders are also enacting mandates for vaccines. The consequences for failing to comply with getting vaccinated include a weekly COVID-19 test, suspension and even termination.

Police Officers and US Unions Are Opposing Mandatory Vaccines

However, according to the Associated Press, unions across the United States are fighting back and opposing mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for law enforcement officers. Police officers and unions are also taking legal action against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

For example, police officers in Oregon sued Governor Kate Brown over the mandates and employees of the Los Angeles Police Department are suing the city in a similar case. Both groups say that mandatory COVID-19 vaccines violate their constitutional rights, a pushback common around the United States.

Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations and Law Enforcement Staffing Implications

For law enforcement, a refusal by police officers to get mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations may have implications on staffing at law enforcement agencies. Police agencies around the nation have already seen a substantial number of retirements and resignations following the anti-police movement that began in the summer of 2020.

There is a valid concern of what mandatory vaccine requirements may have on police staffing levels. A recent survey by the police union in San Diego found that 45% of employees would rather be terminated than comply with the vaccine mandate that the City of San Diego is pursuing.

Ultimately, the impact of COVID-19 vaccine mandates on the military services and law enforcement agencies remains to be seen. Vaccines appear to be an important tool in bringing the pandemic to an end more quickly. However, mandates are being met with some opposition, especially in the civilian law enforcement community.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate criminal justice professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes prison management consulting, human trafficking, maritime security and narcotics trafficking trends. Jarrod recently conducted in-country research in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in human and narcotics trafficking. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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