National Guard members are shown here being fit-tested with N-95 masks. Credit: Contributed photo

National Guard members across the country hit a deadline at the end of last month to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus and as of Friday, the Connecticut National Guard had the highest vaccination rate in the country, according to a spokesman. Of the roughly 5,000 soldiers and airmen serving in the Connecticut National Guard, about 20 have explicitly refused the vaccine while another 100 have applied for exemptions to the requirement, which was issued by the Defense Department last August.

In an email, Major Dave Pytlik, public affairs officer for the state’s National Guard, said the service members seeking exemptions amounted to about 2% of the force, the lowest in the country. 

“The bottom line is that we do not want to lose anyone,” Pytlik wrote, “but the Connecticut National Guard is fortunate in that we are in a much better position relative to many other states where projected and possible losses are a much bigger percentage of the force. We’re going to continue to work with our people to get the number of losses as low as possible until the matter is no longer in our hands.”

The state numbers come as the Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserves have announced that service members can no longer participate in federal drills or training if they have not been vaccinated or applied for an exemption. They may also be subject to disciplinary action, according to a press release

“Soldiers who refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to service, and official reprimands,” the press release read. “In the future, Soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an exemption may be subject to additional adverse administrative action, including separation.”

So far, the Defense Department has not given an order to separate military members refusing to take the vaccine. If that order were given, Pytlik said it would impact less than half a percent of Connecticut’s force. 

Pytlik declined to provide statistics regarding vaccination rates among the National Guard forces in other states but said they roughly correlated to the vaccination rates among the general public. According to the Army, about 89% of the Army National Guard as a whole and the Army Reserve had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. 

Some Republican governors have lobbied military officials to approve exemptions, delay implementation or scrap the vaccine requirement altogether. 

Last week, reported that approximately 40,000 National Guard members and 22,000 reserve members have refused the vaccine nationwide.