Airmen awaiting COVID vaccination exemptions must stay at current orders

The deadline has passed for active duty airmen to get their COVID-19 vaccinations, however, there are still some waiting for medical and religious exemptions — and they will need to follow some special rules in the meantime.

The Air Force’s top personnel officer announced Tuesday that starting Nov. 29 unvaccinated airmen will not be able to proceed to existing permanent change of station (PCS) orders and will not be eligible for future orders unless they get an approved medical or religious accommodation.

“Airmen not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will receive an Assignment Availability Code preventing future assignment selection until resolution,” Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, wrote in a memo obtained by the Facebook group Air Force amn/nco/snco. “Airmen currently on assignment are not authorized to out-process and depart on PCS, with the exception of those who have out-processed and/or shipped household goods/vehicles on or prior to Nov. 29.”

For those overseas, the assignment code will extend the date eligible to return as needed. The dates will be adjusted in 120-day increments until the airman is eligible.

The Air Force’s deadline for active duty airmen to be vaccinated was on Nov. 2. Only 800 airmen flat out refused to get the shots, accounting for about 0.2% of the force.

The Air Force announced that between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2 it would assess religious exemptions. At the time of the deadline, 97% of Air and Space Force active duty members had at least one shot. The services have not updated their individual component percentages since, however, more airmen and guardians continue to get the shot according to the Defense Department’s general tracking.

At the time of the deadline, about 2,750 troops had not started their vaccine procedure yet, but had not refused. Another nearly 5,000 airmen are requesting religious exemptions from getting the vaccine.

At that time, 1,866 exemptions were granted on the grounds of medical or administrative reasons.

Those seeking exemptions are asked to fill out forms explaining why they cannot meet the legal requirement. The Defense Department released a memo explaining how it will handle exemptions for DoD employees. Some of the questions ask if the person has objected to vaccines in the past and, if not, why the COVID-19 vaccine is different.

The Air Force is sending out reprimands and possible terminations to airmen who refuse the vaccine.

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