A reserve airman assigned to the 307th Medical Squadron, prepares a syringe at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, Nov. 7, 2022. (U.S. Department of Defense website)
The U.S. Air Force has dismissed 27 people who refused the Covid-19 vaccine. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Monday (Dec. 13) that the airmen are the first Air Force personnel to be dismissed for violating the vaccine order.
The Pentagon earlier this year had required all members of the military to be vaccinated, including active duty personnel, the National Guard and the Reserves, the Associated Press reported. Each branch of the military has set its own deadline for vaccination for this order. The Air Force requires that members of the force be vaccinated by Nov. 2, although thousands have refused or sought exemptions.
The airmen who were administratively discharged were first-time, relatively young, lower-ranking personnel, Stefanec said.
The Air Force did not disclose the type of discharge these personnel received. However, in accordance with legislation pending in Congress, all those dismissed for not wanting to administer the Covid-19 vaccine should receive either an honorable discharge or a general discharge, which would affect post-discharge benefits.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Covid-19 vaccine is critical to maintaining the health of the force and its ability to respond to national security crises.
None of the 27 Air Force personnel sought exemptions, including medical, administrative or religious exemptions, Stefanec said.
It is not uncommon for members of the U.S. military to be discharged for insubordination. In the first three quarters of 2021, about 1,800 Air Force personnel were discharged for insubordination, Stefanec said.
More than 1,000 Airmen have refused injections, and more than 4,700 are seeking religious exemptions, according to the most recent Air Force figures. As of last week, more than 97 percent of active duty Airmen had received at least one dose.
The Air Force has the earliest vaccination deadline in the U.S. military. Members of the Navy have until Nov. 28 to receive the shot, and members of its reserve component have until Dec. 28.
Active duty Army soldiers have until Dec. 15 to be inoculated, and the deadline for members of the Army National Guard and Reserve is June 30 next year.
The Pentagon said 96.4 percent of active-duty personnel had at least one dose as of Dec. 10. However, if the National Guard and Reserve are included, that number drops to about 74 percent, a figure that is roughly in line with the vaccination rate for Americans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 72 percent of the U.S. population 18 years and older has had at least one shot.
Defense Secretary Austin has said the Guard and Reserve will also have to comply with the vaccine order. He has also said that failure to vaccinate will result in suspension of pay and will be classified as an unexcused absence from drill, and that retirement benefits will be affected.
However, Oklahoma has filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the vaccine order against the Guard. Governor Kevin Stitt (R) argued that Austin’s order exceeded his constitutional authority.