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Starting Friday, tens of thousands of National Guard troops who have yet to prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be in violation of a direct order mandating their compliance.

As a result, they will no longer be able to drill with their units until they provide proof that they have been vaccinated or have received an exemption approved by military leaders.

More than 43,600 National Guard troops – about 10 per cent of the total force – have not provided documentation of vaccination. Some may have opted not to be vaccinated because of medical reasons or because they have requested an exemption. However, military leaders say they would not be immediately separated from the service when the deadline of midnight Thursday passed.

“We’re going to give every soldier every opportunity to get vaccinated and continue their military career,” Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, director of the Army National Guard, said in a statement. “We’re not giving up on anybody until the separation paperwork is signed and completed.”

Of the approximately 330,000 members of the Army National Guard, 86.4 per cent are fully vaccinated against the virus and 88.6 per cent have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a National Guard spokesperson, Nahaku McFadden. For the 104,000 members of the Air National Guard, those rates are 94 per cent and 94.2 per cent.

The active-duty Army has a higher compliance rate, with 97 per cent either fully or partly vaccinated as of June 23, and has discharged more than 1,000 soldiers for refusing to be vaccinated. As of June 22, the Navy had nearly 3,800 unvaccinated sailors and had kicked out more than 1,200 for refusing a shot, according to a statement.

A number of Republican governors have fought the federal vaccine mandate for their National Guards, and in December, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor sued the Biden administration. O’Connor said in a statement at the time that the mandate was unlawful and did not “reflect the Land of the Free.” Two other states, Texas and Alaska, also filed lawsuits.

Federal officials have long said that governors have no legal standing to allow Guard members to refuse to comply with the military’s vaccine mandate. State officials and some legal experts, however, believe that unless National Guard members are federally deployed, they are under the jurisdiction of the governor of their state and therefore not subject to federal mandates.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has remained adamant. In February, he rejected requests for vaccination exemptions for National Guard troops from the governors of Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.

“In making the decision to require vaccination against COVID-19 for service members,” Austin wrote in a letter to the governors, “I considered the thousands of hospitalizations and the hundreds of deaths among service members, civilians and their families related to COVID-19. COVID-19 takes our service members out of the fight, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements.”

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