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Air Force kicks out 27 airmen for refusing COVID vaccine

Tech. Sgt. Joseph Anthony holds a COVID-19 vaccine vial at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, Feb. 4, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joshua J. Seybert)
December 14, 2021

The U.S. Air Force discharged 27 service members, specifically for their refusal to get COVID-19 vaccine shots after the Nov. 2 deadline, the service revealed this week.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed the discharges to the Associated Press on Monday. She said these are the first airmen to be separated from the service for reasons specifically involving refusing the vaccine.

Stefanek told the Associated Press that none of the service members had sought any type of exemptions to the military-wide vaccine mandate, for medical, religious or administrative reasons. As a result of their vaccination status and having not even requested any form of exemption, the 27 airmen were discharged for refusing to obey an order.

Stafanek said all 27 airmen were in their first term of enlistment, and were younger, lower-ranking personnel.

Sources from the other military branches told the Associated Press that these 27 discharges appear to be the first instance in which any part of the military has been able to separate service members simply for their unvaccinated status.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Lucian Kins, the executive officer of the USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81), was relieved of his command last week for refusing to be tested for COVID-19. Kins was reassigned and has not been separated from the military at this time.

U.S. Marine Cpl. Whitney McHaffie, who was unvaccinated, was separated from the military in September, but for refusing to wear a face mask. McHaffie was separated before the service’s vaccine deadline had arrived. McHaffie had applied for a religious exemption to both the vaccine and to a mandate that she wear a mask.

The deadline for Air Force personnel to be fully vaccinated was Nov. 2 for active personnel and Dec. 2 for Air National Guard and Reserve personnel. Active Navy and Marine Corps members had until Nov. 28 to get the shots, while their Reserve members have until Dec. 28. Army active-duty soldiers have until Wednesday, Dec. 15, and members of the Army National Guard and the Reserves have until next June 30 of 2022. The Air Force is the furthest along in its vaccine mandate timeline.

According to the most recent service data, about 97 percent of the Air Force has received at least one vaccine shot. Additionally, more than 1,000 airmen have refused the vaccine outright and more than 4,700 are actively seeking a religious exemption.

Across the active component of the military, about 96.4 percent of personnel have received at least one vaccine dose. Looking at the entire military, including both active and reserve components, about 74 percent have received at least one dose. Those numbers are similar to the nationwide figures, where about 72 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18 have received at least one vaccine dose.