The deadline for active duty airmen and guardians to be fully vaccinated has come and passed and a minuscule portion have flat out refused to get the shot, while those requesting exemptions are making up a larger, but still small, part of the force.
Only 800 active duty airmen and guardians, out of an Air and Space Force of about 326,000, said they will not get the COVID-19 vaccination, and will face consequences and possible termination. To put the number in perspective, the 800 troops make up about 0.2% of the active duty force.
Those who are still not vaccinated still number in the thousands though. According to a factsheet sent out by the Air Force, about 2,750 have not started their vaccine procedure yet, but have not refused. Another nearly 5,000 airmen are requesting religious exemptions from getting the vaccine. Those exemptions are currently in progress and the Air Force has not granted any religious exemptions at this time.
To date, only 1,866 exemptions have been granted, and those are on the grounds of medical or administrative reasons.
“Over the next 30 days, the Department of the Air Force will review requests for medical exemptions and religious accommodations,” an Air Force press release states. “Department of the Air Force civilians have until Nov. 22 to be fully vaccinated, and Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members in a reserve component status must be vaccinated by Dec. 2.”
As of Nov. 3, 97% of the Air and Space Forces active duty troops are vaccinated or partially vaccinated.
The Air Force has not released numbers for the Reserve, Guard or civilian workers because the deadlines have not been reached.
Similarly, the Army and Navy have not yet reached their vaccination deadlines of Dec. 15 and Nov. 28, respectively, and therefore cannot provide full results on exemptions and refusals.
Those seeking exemptions are being asked to fill out forms explaining why they cannot meet the legal requirement. The Defense Department recently 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.
Sean Timmons, a managing partner at Tully Rinckey — which is representing some service members avoiding the vaccine — recently told the Federal Drive that people in the military requesting exemptions fall into a variety of buckets ranging from sincere religious beliefs to people who have already had COVID and don’t want the shot.
“I see a lot of conspiracy theories, not as common with federal employees and the military members, but we do see some reoccurring conspiracy theories throughout each of those elements,” he said. “We try to walk people back from the conspiracy theories — you can’t use the conspiracy theory information as a basis to get an accommodation. Our focus is mainly the legal authorities.”
The Air Force has already started sending out reprimands and possible terminations to airmen who refuse the vaccine.
The Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook group posted a reprimand issued from the 319th Reconnaissance Wing at Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The letter, dated Oct. 3, states the airman failed to obey a lawful order.
“You failed to follow a direct order by a superior commissioned officer and by doing so have placed yourself and your fellow airmen in danger,” the reprimand reads. “I can no longer trust you to obey orders that will execute our mission. You have shown you are not committed to maintaining readiness for the Department of the Air Force.”
The reprimand directs the airman to complete a virtual or in-person transition assistance program workshop and obtain a separation history and physical examination in 14 days.
“Your conduct is unacceptable and further deviation or failure to comply may result in more severe action,” the letter reads.
In total, about 73,000 service members, contractors, civilians and dependents related to the Department of the Air Force have gotten COVID-19, and 139 of them have died.