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Air Force will miss its COVID vaccination deadline by a few percent

Capt. (Dr.) Joseph Santamaria administers COVID-19 vaccine at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, May 14, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tory Patterson)
October 28, 2021

The Air Force will miss its comparatively ambitious goal of getting all active-duty airmen vaccinated for COVID by Nov. 2, officials said. As of Tuesday, 94.6 percent of the force had received the vaccine.

“We don’t anticipate we will be to a 100% vaccination rate,” Rose Riley with Air Force public affairs said Wednesday.

The branch plans to begin releasing data on approved and pending exemptions after Nov. 2. So next week, the Air Force’s COVID-19 dashboard should include new chart sections for “approved administrative, medical and some religious exemptions.”

As of Oct. 18, the Air Force has seen 43,298 cases of COVID among its roughly 330,000 active-duty airmen since the pandemic began some 22 months ago. Six airmen have died of the disease and 21 have been hospitalized.

Each service branch set its own deadline for vaccination under Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s Aug. 24 order to get all U.S. troops the shot. The memo told the service secretaries to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation” but did not give a specific deadline.

The Air Force’s vaccine deadline, which also applies to Space Force personnel, comes nearly a month before the Navy Department’s Nov. 28 deadline for its active-duty sailors and Marines. The Army has set the least ambitious goals: active-duty soldiers by Dec. 15, Army Reservist and National Guard troops six months after that.

While the Air Force shares its COVID-19 vaccination rates through a dashboard that is updated weekly, other branches are providing more piecemeal data through occasionally updated dashboards and responses to media inquiries.

As of Oct. 22, the Army had partially vaccinated 93 percent of its force, officials said. That’s the same percentage that Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville gave on Oct. 12 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.

According to the Defense Department’s data on vaccines administered across the force, DoD stuck 31,000 needles in arms from Oct. 20 to Oct. 27—but there’s no telling how those 31,000 doses pan out across the vaccination rates for each branch.

No branch has yet provided comprehensive data on the number of exemptions pending or approved.

Army and Marine Corps officials said their branches had approved no religious exemptions as of Oct. 18. The Army has approved one permanent medical exemption. Like the Air Force, the Navy and Marine Corps plan to start releasing data on exemptions once their initial Nov. 28 deadline passes.

The branch deadlines to achieve 100% vaccination are:

Nov. 2: Active-Duty Air Force

Nov. 28: Active-Duty Navy and Marines

Dec. 2: Air National Guard and Reserves

Dec. 15: Active-Duty Army

Dec. 28: Navy and Marine Corps Reserves

June 30, 2022: Army Reserve and National Guard

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