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A higher-than-average percentage of National Guard members in Minnesota met a federal deadline to get COVID-19 vaccinations by this week.

Less than 5% of Minnesota National Guard's 12,600 soldiers and airmen had not received the shot when the U.S. Department of Defense deadline passed Thursday. Nationally, 88.2% of National Guard members are fully vaccinated, while 89.9% have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Of the 532 Minnesota service members who remained unvaccinated, 132 requested medical or religious exemptions, which are awaiting disposition from the Departments of the Army and Air Force. Four-hundred declined the COVID-19 vaccination, Minnesota National Guard officials said Friday.

Service members who aren't fully vaccinated and don't have an approved or pending exemption are not allowed to attend annual training, drill periods or exercises.

Of the 400 members who remained unvaccinated and had not applied for an exemption, none had been "involuntarily separated" from the Minnesota National Guard, meaning none had been fired and not allowed to rejoin the military.

The Department of Defense ordered vaccinations for all members of the military in summer 2021, and Guard members had the last immunization deadline. Some who left the Guard due to vaccine requirements have been "voluntary separations," which means they resigned and would be permitted to rejoin the organization if vaccination requirements change in the future. Other Guard members who did not want to be vaccinated took retirement instead.

"People are our greatest strength and the most valuable resource required to perform our mission," said Lt. Col. Kristen Augé, the Minnesota National Guard's state public affairs officer. "Being vaccinated protects the health and welfare of our women and men to defend our nation's freedom ... The Minnesota National Guard continues to work with service members who have reservations about the vaccination with dignity and respect."

The Guard noted that, even with members who have taken retirement or resigned due to the vaccination requirement, turnover remains average.

The Minnesota National Guard historically plans for between 15 and 17 % of the force to retire or let their enlistment contract expire annually. This year, leadership expects that number to be 16 %.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, eight Minnesota National Guard service members have been hospitalized with the virus; one 27-year-old soldier died of complications from COVID-19.

The national vaccination numbers may be higher than reported, according to the National Guard Bureau, since soldiers and airmen are still providing civilian documentation to be entered into their electronic health record.

"We're going to give every soldier every opportunity to get vaccinated and continue their military career," said Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, director of the Army National Guard and the former adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard. "We're not giving up on anybody until the separation paperwork is signed and completed."