The Air Force has discharged 27 airmen for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The airmen appear to be the first active-duty military members to lose their jobs under the service’s vaccine mandate, other than several dozen new recruits who were separated when they refused the vaccination during basic training.
“Airmen and Guardians received education and counseling to encourage them to receive the vaccines,” Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek told Coffee or Die Magazine in an email statement Tuesday. “Commanders ensured first sergeants, chaplains, mental health professionals and JAGs were available to consult with members who initially refused to be vaccinated. Commanders then began using a series of graduated administrative discipline to encourage refusers to receive the vaccine.”
Stefanek said the 27 discharged airmen were almost all in their first enlistments with less than six years of service.
About 4,700 Air Force members have requested a religious exemption to the mandate, though neither the Air Force nor any of the other service branches have approved any exemptions on religious grounds yet. None of those discharged had applied for religious accommodations.
As of Dec. 6, 97% of the active-duty Air Force is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Roughly 1,000 airmen have flatly refused the vaccine, seeking no exemption.
Active-duty members of the Navy and Marine Corps had until Nov. 28 to get vaccinated, while the Army’s deadline is Wednesday, Dec. 15.
The draft of the National Defense Authorization Act that is currently working its way through Congress has language that would guarantee anyone who is administratively separated from the military for refusing the vaccine receives an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions. This will allow discharged service members to keep their VA benefits.
“Each case is different and must be evaluated on its own merits, but the Department of the Air Force is following the intent laid out in the NDAA,” Stefanek wrote when asked if all the airmen received those types of discharges.
Several lawsuits are pending against the Department of Defense over its handling of religious exemptions. Oklahoma’s governor and state attorney general are also suing President Joe Biden and the Pentagon, seeking to exempt members of the state’s National Guard from the vaccine mandate. However, the adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, said last week that he has “no such power” to relieve Oklahoma soldiers from eventual compliance with the Pentagon’s requirement.