Big Navy: sailors will enjoy fewer COVID restrictions if they volunteer to get the vaccine

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The U.S. Navy is rolling out less-restrictive COVID-19 requirements for immunized sailors and fully vaccinated crews, policies that will lead to more port calls and less pre-deployment quarantines for those who volunteer for the vaccine.

Sailors who opt to get one of the voluntary COVID vaccines won’t have to quarantine before deployment if they received their final dose within the past three months, according to updated COVID guidance sent Tuesday by Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy.

Fully vaccinated crews will be able to do away with restriction of movement, or ROM, sequesters and will be able to “relax health protection measures aimed at mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus,” the message states.

Immunized sailors will also be able to get off the ship and enjoy expanded liberty in “safe haven ports” like Guam or Bahrain, and restriction-of-movement, or ROM, periods for vaccinated units in training or readying to deploy will be eased as well.

Vaccines allow a path back to something that resembles normalcy, according to the Navy.

“In short, fully immunized sailors will allow our Navy to begin to unwind the limitations that have been placed on our sailors at sea,” the message states. “The higher percentage of the crew immunized, the less risk there is to a widespread outbreak.”

The message also states that “nearly every ship in the Navy has had at least one case onboard.”

“In the majority of those cases, aggressive early action to isolate, quarantine, contact trace and continue strict health protection measures has contained the incidence rate onboard to well less than five percent, allowing those ships to fight through and remain on mission,” according to the message.

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Go here to read the updated guidance.

Tuesday’s message also states that fully immunized crews will be able to “relax health protection measures” after a certain number of days onboard, depending on crew size.

If the ship brings on any non-immunized individuals, such measures must be put in place again while those people are on board.

The message states that guidance will continue to be updated “as we learn more about the vaccines and the reduced risk it affords our sailors.”

“For crews who are a 100 percent immunized…modeling shows the risk of infection is extremely low,” Sawyer wrote.

Immunized sailors will be able to make port calls in overseas U.S. ports, including Guam, Bahrain, Yokosuka, Japan, Rota, Spain and Sasebo, Japan, but will be limited to base services, according to the message.

The message states that the COVID-19 vaccines are now being “rapidly deployed across the fleet.”

Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group were able to receive the first dose of the Moderna vaccine this past weekend, with a second jab to follow during their deployment.

As of a few weeks ago, two out of three sailors who were offered the vaccine had taken it, according to a Jan. 19 message to the fleet by Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, deputy chief of operations for operations, plans and strategy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines under an emergency-use authorization, which means the military cannot mandate them for servicemembers.

Still, Big Navy has in recent weeks been nudging the fleet to take advantage of the two-shot regimen when it is their turn, to protect not only themselves, but their shipmates and loved ones as well.

“They have met rigorous safety criteria and individuals are highly encouraged to get the vaccine,” the message states.

Navy leaders have said in recent weeks that they expect to make the vaccine mandatory when allowed.

“We cannot make it mandatory yet, but I can tell you we’re probably going to make it mandatory as soon as we can, just like the flu vaccine,” U.S. 2nd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis told reporters last week.

About

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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