Starting Wednesday, the U.S. Army will begin to immediately discharge soldiers who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The discharge orders will apply to regular Army soldiers, cadets, and active-duty Army reservists. The Army stated it will “immediately begin separating Soldiers from the service” who are not vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

However, members with approved or pending exemptions can continue to serve as their requests are being processed.

“Army readiness depends on soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” Christine Wormuth, army secretary, said in a statement. “Unvaccinated soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness.”

Unvaccinated soldiers who refuse the COVID-19 “will not be eligible for involuntary separation pay” and may be required to return any unearned special or incentive pay.

Several branches of the military have already begun discharging unvaccinated soldiers. As of Jan. 26, a reported 96% of active troops are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile,  5,900 have received temporary exemptions and 3,350 soldiers have remained unvaccinated.

The Pentagon first issued the vaccine mandate for all members of the military back in August 2021. “To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo at the time.

“I strongly encourage all DoD military and civilian personnel — as well as contractor personnel — to get vaccinated now and for military service members to not wait for the mandate.”

The potential removal of unvaccinated army soldiers comes days after the FDA fully approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which will now be marketed as Spikevax.

“The public can be assured that Spikevax meets the FDA’s high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality required of any vaccine approved for use in the United States,” Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, said in a statement on Monday.

US Forces Korea (USFK) administered initial doses of the Moderna vaccine for military and civilian healthcare workers Thousands of US Air Force employees have yet to be fully vaccinated, but the first deadline is nearing, and defense firms are concerned about potential worker loss. Photo: US FORCES KOREA / Handout