It’s deadline day for National Guard COVID vaccinations

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The U.S. Department of Defense set a deadline of Thursday, June 30 for all service members to get the COVID vaccine or risk involuntary discharge from the military. The mandate includes National Guard units across the country. When the week started, 40,000 still had not been vaccinated, including 532 in Minnesota.

“I’ve been getting updated on it,” Governor Tim Walz said while visiting a farm in Foley an doing a ceremonial signing of the agriculture bill. “My guidance to our team is to give everyone the opportunity to do this, what’s right for them to protect our force to get this done. But to give the benefit of the doubt to listen to why these folks are not quite there yet, try to get it done. Again, it comes back to national readiness.”

According to Lt. Col. Kristin Auge of the Minnesota National Guard, as of Thursday 532 members of the Minnesota Army and Air National Guard were unvaccinated. She says 400 refused the vaccinations, while another 132 refused and were seeking religious or health exemptions.

“The Minnesota National Guard is ‘always ready, always there’ to support and defend its state and nation,” Auge said in a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “Complying with all Department of Defense vaccination requirements is part of our normal medical readiness requirements to meet our mission. Each day the COVID-19 vaccination numbers continue to improve as health records are updated. One hundred and thirty two service members have requested medical or religious exemptions and 400 have declined the COVID-19 vaccination. At this time, no Minnesota National Guard service members have been involuntarily discharged due to their COVID-19 vaccination status.”

However, two former members of the Minnesota National Guard says they “voluntarily” left, even though they wanted to stay, because they had no plans to get vaccinated.

The governor says he’s confident the Minnesota National Guard is handling the situation appropriately. “I want to congratulate the Minnesota Guard,” he said. “They handled it with care, with decency, with compassion. And they’ve done it as I’ve said, treat this on an individual basis, but make sure our readiness is up.”

One of the former Guard members who spoke with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on the condition of remaining anonymous, isn’t so sure readiness will remain adequate.

“Our mission readiness is definitely impacted by this,” the former member said.

The Minnesota Army and Air National Guard force totals 12,600. With 532 refusing vaccinations, that’s impacting just over four percent of the force.

As for the next steps after Thursday, Auge says the Minnesota National Guard is awaiting “further guidance” from the Pentagon.