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Air Force says 8,500 Airmen, Guardians missed vaccine deadline; 0 religious waivers granted

(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Matthew Lotz)
November 04, 2021

The Department of the Air Force released its vaccine statistics on Wednesday – one day after the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for active duty service members – showing that nearly 8,500 service members did not meet the deadline.

The department, which oversees the Air Force and Space Force, said as of Wednesday, its active duty member vaccination rate achieved 97% (95.9% fully vaccinated and 1% partially vaccinated) and guard/reserve vaccination rate reached 94% (90.5% fully vaccinated and 3.7% partially vaccinated).

The department added that 8,486 members were unvaccinated. Among them, 800 flat out refused, 4,933 had applied for religious exemptions, and 2,753 had not started either the vaccine process or waiver application.

Relatively few exemptions have been granted across the department. The department approved 1,634 medical exemptions and 232 administrative exemptions for active duty members. No religious accommodations have been provided.

The department said it would review requests for medical exemptions and religious waivers over the next 30 days.

“Our Airmen need to be prepared to operate anytime, anywhere in the world,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. “Getting vaccinated ensures we are a ready force to meet our commitments to the nation while protecting the health of our team and families.”

The department reported 73,131 total COVID-19 cases among its members, civilians, dependents and contractors from the beginning of the pandemic to Oct. 26. Among those cases were 51 hospitalizations and 139 deaths.

On Oct. 20, the department released a statement from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall who warned those refusing the vaccines that they could face a range of consequences including “referring court-martial charges.”

“To those yet to get vaccinated, the order is clear: You have a responsibility to take action now, protect our nation and those we love, or be held accountable for failing to do so,” Kendall said.

The department release added that “Should a service member refuse to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, commanders retain the full range of disciplinary options available to them under law and policy, some of which includes issuing administrative paperwork, imposing nonjudicial punishment, or referring court-martial charges.”

Service members could be charged under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which defines a failure to obey a lawful general order or regulation. The maximum punishment for an Article 92 violation is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and two years confinement.

Members of Congress have added a provision to the House version of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the House passed in September, to ensure service members separated for vaccine refusal would receive an honorable discharge.