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Hundreds of Minnesota National Guard members face expulsion over vaccine

More than 95% of the Guard’s 13,000 soldiers and airmen have been vaccinated against COVID-19, but holdouts remain. The Department of Defense has a Thursday, June 30, deadline to get the shot.

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Members of the Minnesota Army National Guard Bravo Company 2-136th Infantry Regiment supporting Operation Spartan Shield arrive at old terminal of Hector International Airport in Fargo, North Dakota, on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum
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ST. PAUL — Hundreds of Minnesota National Guard members could be forced to leave the military for declining the COVID-19 vaccine after the Department of Defense’s Thursday, June 30, deadline to get the shot.

More than 95% of the Guard’s 13,000 members have been vaccinated against COVID-19, but holdouts remain, said Lt. Col. Kristen Augé, the Minnesota National Guard's State Public Affairs Officer. Of that group, nearly 2% requested a religious or medical exemption, while 3% have refused vaccination.

According to the percentages provided by military officials, it’s possible more than 600 members could face dismissal from the Minnesota National Guard, but leadership said it hopes to work with service members who have reservations about the vaccine.

"People are our greatest strength and the most valuable resource required to perform our mission," Augé said. “The Minnesota National Guard continues to work with service members who have reservations about the vaccination with dignity and respect."

Augé said religious exemption requests by Minnesota service members are "awaiting disposition from the departments of the Army and Air Force."

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Former Minnesota Adjutant General and Army Guard director Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen said he does not plan to give up on any vaccine-refusing soldiers until they have signed paperwork to leave, according to a statement provided by Augé.

Nationally, more than 40,000 Army National Guard soldiers, about 13% of the force, have not been vaccinated for COVID-19, according to the National Guard Bureau. Around 14,000 have declined the vaccine.

Minnesota's National Guard is composed of around 11,000 soldiers and 2,000 airmen. The Air National Guard's vaccination deadline was late last year.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered COVID-19 vaccinations for all members of the military in summer 2021. Vaccination deadlines varied by branch, and Army National Guard members and reservists had the latest date to be immunized.

The Minnesota National Guard has a higher rate of vaccination than the National Guard as a whole, where 88.2 members have been fully vaccinated, according to Kurt Rauschenberg with the National Guard Bureau of Public Affairs. The Air National Guard has a rate of 94% while the Army National Guard has a rate of 86.4%.

Rauschenberg in a statement said the overall number of vaccinated service members could be higher as many soldiers and airmen have not yet had their civilian vaccine documentation entered into military health records.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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