WASHINGTON — At least 800 active duty members of the Air Force and Space Force refused get the Covid vaccine by Tuesday, the first deadline for serving members of the U.S. military to comply with an order by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to get vaccinated, defense officials said Wednesday.
The Air Force granted 1,866 exemptions, including 1,634 for medical reasons and 232 for administrative reasons such as a person is about to leave the military, the officials said. No requests for religious exemptions have been approved, but 4,933 are still under review.
More than 10,300 members of the Air Force and Space Force remain unvaccinated, officials said. That figure includes 2,753 people who have not started getting the vaccine, have not applied for an exemption and have not reported that they are refusing it.
Now that the deadline has passed, many of these men and women will be brought in for counseling. Those who refused could begin the disciplinary process.
Just under 96 percent of active duty Air Force and Space Force members were fully vaccinated against the virus by the Nov. 2 deadline.
In a statement released earlier in the week, a defense official told NBC News, “Any refusal to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, absent an approved medical or administrative exemption or accommodation, may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Military commanders retain the full range of disciplinary options available to them under Article 92 of the UCMJ and must consult with their servicing Staff Judge Advocate for additional guidance on vaccination non-compliance.”
“Our goal is to ensure as many Airmen and Guardians as possible receive the vaccine. Military commanders have a range of options available to encourage their service members to receive the vaccine. This is about force health protection — not punishment.”
The next Covid vaccine deadline for service members is Nov. 28, by which time all active-duty sailors and Marines must have been vaccinated or received an exemption. Active-duty members of the Army must be vaccinated by Dec. 15. Together, the Navy, Marine Corps and Army have more than 1 million active-duty members.
Austin issued a memo in August that ordered the heads of all military branches to make sure their service members got vaccinated and to impose “ambitious timelines.”