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Air Force denies 2,100 vaccine exemption requests

U.S. Army Soldiers draw and prepare vaccines at the Atlanta Community Vaccination Center in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, March 26, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Robert P Wormley III)

The Air Force said Wednesday it has denied about 2,100 requests to avoid the COVID-19 vaccine for considerations of military readiness.

The Air Force has received more than 10,000 requests from across what it calls the “total force”- active-duty personnel, National Guard and Reserve — for exemptions from having to take the COVID-19 vaccine as an accommodation of religious beliefs.

Of that number, more than 2,000 have been denied “due to military readiness considerations,” the Air Force said.

No religious accommodations have been approved yet, said Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. More than 8,630 requests for an exemption are still awaiting a ruling.

“We are not breaking down data at the installation level,” Stefanek said Thursday when asked if the Air Force will release numbers on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base personnel. “We are only releasing aggregate data at the Department of the Air Force level.”

Wright-Patterson has about 32,000 military and civilian employees.

“Each commander determines if the accommodation can be made without adversely impacting military readiness based on the health and safety of the unit and member, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline,” the Air Force said in a statement Wednesday.

If the commander determines the accommodation cannot be made without adversely affecting any of those factors, he or she will deny the religious accommodation request, even if a request is seen as sincere.

At that point, a service member may appeal the denial to the Air Force surgeon general.

“Each member’s request is carefully considered to balance the government’s compelling interest in mission accomplishment with the service member’s sincerely held belief,” said Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones.

To date, more than 95% of total force airmen and guardsmen have been vaccinated, the service said.

The deadline for active duty airmen and guardsmen to be vaccinated was Nov. 2, while Air Force Reserve airmen had until Dec. 2 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The deadline for Air National Guard members was extended to Dec. 31.

“Service members who continue to refuse to obey a lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after their exemption request/final appeal has been denied or retirement/separation has not been approved will be subject to initiation of administrative discharge proceedings,” the Air Force said.

The Department of the Air Force does not distinguish Air Force and Space Force data separately. By far, most of its members belong to the Air Force.

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