Thousands of USAF personnel miss vaccine deadline
More than 10,000 Air National Guard and Reserve troops had not taken up mandatory Covid-19 jabs as the deadline passed, the US Air Force (USAF) has said. Some may be banned from training or dismissed altogether as a result.
Roughly 11,000 troops were still unvaccinated by Thursday’s deadline, the USAF said on Friday. That is about 6% of the total Air National Guard (107,000) and Reserve (68,000) personnel. Around 3,500 have received medical or administrative exemptions, while another 5,800 have applied for exemptions on religious grounds, although none of these has been approved so far. Some 2,100 or so have officially refused the jab.
The actual number of the unvaccinated may be less, however, as some airmen may have received the jab at civilian pharmacies without notifying the service, the USAF said.
USAF spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told the AP news agency the holdouts would be given the opportunity to get a shot when they reported to base.
“Unvaccinated Air National Guard members will report to duty for the drill weekend as usual,” Stefanek said. “Commanders will use this opportunity to educate their personnel on vaccination requirements and the consequences of not complying with the mandate.”
What those consequences may be is still unclear. Branches of the US military have until next week to publish official guidance on the matter. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo earlier this week that National Guard members who refused the jab would not be allowed to undertake the federally funded training required to maintain their status. They would also not get paid or gain credit towards retirement or other federal benefits.
The Air National Guard’s vaccination deadline was December 2. About 91.5% of the Guard and the Reserve had been vaccinated as of Thursday. About 97% of active-duty USAF personnel, whose deadline was a month ago, have been administered at least one dose.
In August, Austin issued an order that all active-duty military members had to be inoculated. National Guard components were given more latitude, with the army setting a deadline of June 2022, citing the much greater size and dispersion of the force.
While most states and service branches have gone along with the orders, the Oklahoma National Guard has challenged the mandate in court.