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Air Force grants its first COVID vaccine religious waivers

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)
February 10, 2022

The U.S. Air Force granted its first religious waivers to the military-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate this week.

In a Tuesday update of the Department of the Air Force’s COVID-19 response, the service announced it had approved nine religious accommodations, including eight through service members’ major and field commands and one through a Department of the Air Force appeal.

In total, the Air Force has received 6,962 religious accommodation requests. Its major and field commands have disapproved 3,222 requests, while another 443 have been rejected on appeal. Additionally, 2,556 religious accommodation requests are still pending with major and field commands, while another 732 are awaiting an appeal decision.

With these nine accommodations, the Air Force became the second U.S. military branch to approve any religious accommodation to the COVID-19 vaccine, and became the branch with the most approved religious accommodations.

Before Tuesday, the U.S. Marine Corps had been the only military branch to approve any religious waivers. Thus far, the Marine Corps has approved three religious waivers.

“The Department of the Air Force determined the service members’ accommodations could be supported with no impact to mission readiness,” spokesperson Ann Stefanek said in a statement provided to Air Force Magazine.

The Air Force has also approved 1,476 medical exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, including 702 in the active force and 774 with the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. Another 1,837 Airmen have administrative exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine, including 63 active Airmen, 203 in the Reserve and 1,571 in the Air National Guard.

The Air Force reports 96 percent of the total force is fully vaccinated, with a full vaccination rate of 97.8 percent in the active force, and 92.7 full vaccination rates in the Reserve and Guard.

An additional 0.2 percent of the total force is considered partially vaccinated, after receiving one of a two-dose vaccination series. 0.1 percent of the active force is partially vaccinated. 0.3 percent of Air National Guard and 0.4 percent of the Reserve are also partially vaccinated.

At least 828 service members from across the U.S. military have been separated for not being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of Monday, Feb. 7, the Air Force has separated 142 active-duty Airmen on the basis of COVID-19 vaccine refusals.

As of their latest numbers, 469 Marines have been separated from the Marine Corps for vaccine refusals.

As of Wednesday, the U.S. Navy had separated 217 sailors for vaccine refusals.

Until last week, the U.S. Army had not processed any separations on the basis of vaccine refusal and had instead issued official reprimands to 3,073 soldiers. Last week, the Army announced it would “immediately begin” separating soldiers who had refused to vaccinate. The Army has yet to announce its first separations on the basis of vaccine refusal.