PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The U.S. Navy will officially start kicking out sailors who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but stopped short of giving out dishonorable discharges.

The separation guidance sent out Wednesday comes weeks after the Nov. 28 vaccination deadline. The guidance instructs commanders to start separation paperwork for sailors who are not in compliance with the vaccine mandate.

The announcement affects all active duty Navy personnel. Around 5,700 sailors still refuse to get the vaccine, a relatively small number compared with the 336,000 sailors who are already vaccinated.

This news comes the same week the Air Force discharged 27 airmen over not complying with the mandate.

Navy officials say they don’t want to lose a single sailor over the mandate.

“Our overall goal is to not separate anybody,” said Capt. Dave Hecht. “We absolutely do not want to kick people out of the Navy. That is the last option that we want to execute. But we need a fully vaccinated force. and so we are standing by and hoping that people comply.”

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Officials say while the paperwork is being processed, sailors can change their minds, get vaccinated, inform their superiors and the separation process will pause or stop completely.

The only sailors not affected by the guidance are those who plan to retire or separate by June 1, 2022.

Any sailors with unfulfilled obligations with education or bonuses will be required to repay the Navy for whatever is left on their commitment.

Congressman Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk) sent us this statement on the issue,

“I am grateful to the more than 336,000 sailors for putting unit strength and the safety of their friends, family and loved ones first. COVID-19 outbreaks have already compromised readiness aboard several ships since the pandemic began. As our military prepares to counter a rising China and Russia, we cannot afford any further disruptions. The policy of discharging service members for refusal to take mandated vaccines and is not unique to the COVID-19 vaccine. It has been used in the past when service members refused vaccines. During the course of my two decades of service in the Navy, I complied with every vaccine mandate that was ordered so I understand the burden many of our sailors face. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and highly effective. I encourage everyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”