Next steps not clear yet after Montana Army National Guard passes COVID vaccine deadline

Fort Harrison
Posted at 3:55 PM, Jul 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-07 19:09:23-04

HELENA — The Montana Army National Guard says about 2% of its soldiers still haven’t received a COVID vaccine or applied for an exemption, after a nationwide vaccine deadline passed.

The U.S. Department of Defense ordered all branches of the military to begin requiring their service members to get vaccinated against COVID. June 30 was the nationwide deadline for the Army National Guard.

According to the Montana Guard, 94.2% of their roughly 2,300 Army Guard soldiers were fully or partially vaccinated as of July 6 – up from 93.2% in mid-May – and another 3.5% were seeking religious or medical exemptions. The remaining 2.2% – about 50 soldiers – had neither gotten a shot nor started the exemption process, down slightly from 2.4% in May.

Montana Guard leaders have said they’ve been waiting for more guidance from federal authorities before deciding how to move forward with the remaining unvaccinated soldiers.

“The Secretary of the Army is expected to publish guidance detailing how the National Guard will address their unvaccinated population,” said Maj. Ryan Finnegan, the state public affairs officer. “We are awaiting that guidance in order to determine our next steps.”

The Guard planned to hold a “retention symposium” in early June, to answer unvaccinated soldiers’ questions about the vaccine and talk about what would happen next. Finnegan told MTN that event was delayed while they continued to wait for updated guidance, and it hasn’t yet been rescheduled.

The Air National Guard’s vaccine deadline was in December 2021. The Montana Guard said in May that none of its Air Guard members had been discharged so far for failing to get vaccinated.