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Marine Corps becomes first branch of military to grant religious exemptions to COVID vaccines

Military personnel of the Netherlands Royal Marine Corps register people for a booster vaccination in a vaccination center located in concert hall Ahoy on Dec. 29, 2021, in Rotterdam, Netherlands.Pierre Crom/Getty

Two members of the US Marine Corps have been given religious exemptions from the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate, the first of their kind since the mandate was introduced last summer.

According to officials, 95% of active-duty Marines — the military branch with the greatest number of holdouts against COVID-19 vaccines — are inoculated against COVID. About 97% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members in the United States have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Thousands of U.S. troops across the military have sought religious exemptions from the vaccine, but none had been approved until this week. There have been 3,350 requests for religious accommodation across the Marines.

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“The Marine Corps recognizes COVID-19 as a readiness issue. The speed with which the disease transmits among individuals has increased risk to our Marines and the Marine Corps’ mission,” Maj. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesman, said Thursday in a written statement.

He added that 88% of Marines hospitalized for complications from the virus were unvaccinated.

Congress passed legislation last month that would prohibit the service branches from dishonorably discharging any member who refused to be vaccinated against COVID, but scores have left the military over the policy.

Five governors also wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last month asking that their National Guard troops be exempted from a federal COVID vaccine mandate.

Earlier this month, a federal judge issued an injunction to shield a group of Navy sailors who sued the Biden administration over the mandate.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.