Last week the Pentagon said officials are actively discussing making the COVID-19 vaccine booster shots mandatory for all United States military service members despite the already thousands who are refusing or seeking exemptions for the initial set of vaccine shots.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Friday, no final decisions have been made, adding that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “absolutely encourages people, if they can and if they qualify, to get the booster. But right now there is no requirement for it.”
Since announcing the requirement in August, Kirby said roughly 96.4 percent of all active duty personnel have taken at least one shot. The percentage drops to around 74 percent when National Guard and Reserve troops are included.
Kirby said “there’s more work to do” when it comes to vaccinating American troops.
“The secretary’s expectation is 100% vaccination, that’s what he wants to see,” Kirby said.
Kirby said each branch must ensure service members understand the consequences should they refuse the vaccine, adding that Austin expects the branches to be compassionate and thoughtful when implementing the mandate and not “immediately go to some sort of punitive or administrative action.”
This week, the U.S. Air Force revealed that it had discharged 27 service members, specifically for their refusal to get COVID-19 vaccine shots after the Nov. 2 deadline.
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.
Also this week, five states governors sent a letter to Secretary Austin requesting that he withdraw the portion of his military-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate requiring National Guard members serving on state-level duty to be vaccinated.
“We write to request you withdraw part of your and the Service Secretaries’ directives to National Guard members in their Title 32 duty status concerning the COVID-19 vaccine,” the governors’ letter reads. “We acknowledge your right to establish readiness standards for the National Guard for activation into a Title 10 status. However, directives dictating whether training in a Title 32 status can occur, setting punishment requirements for refusing to be COVID-19 vaccinated, and requiring separation from each state National Guard if unvaccinated are beyond your constitutional and statutory authority.”