Airmen Have Less than Two Months to Get Fully Vaccinated

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Operation Max Vax sticker for the effort to vaccinate service members
An Operation Max Vax sticker promotes the effort to vaccinate service members. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Rachael Parks)

The Department of the Air Force has set a tight two-month deadline for active-duty troops to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Those who don’t get the shot in time could be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Airmen and Space Force Guardians must be fully vaccinated – including a two-week period after a final shot – by Nov. 2, the Air Force said in a press release Friday. Air National Guardsmen and reservists have until Dec. 2.

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That means, with the recommended three-week period in between shots requiring two doses, airmen and Guardians may need to get first shots by the end of September to be fully vaccinated by the deadline.

The grace period to get the vaccine is shorter than the 90-day deadline the Navy and Marine Corps set for service members last week. The Army has not yet announced when it will require soldiers to be fully vaccinated, but Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that decision is expected very soon.

“We are taking an aggressive approach to protect our service members, their families and their communities from COVID-19 and the highly transmissible Delta variant,” Undersecretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones said in the press release.

As of Sept. 1, there were 299,716 members of the Air Force and Space Force, including guardsmen and reservists, who are fully vaccinated, and another 38,281 who were partially vaccinated. That amounts to roughly two-thirds of all members of the Air Force and Space Force.

So far, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, also known as Comirnaty, has been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration. For that reason, the Pfizer vaccine is the only one that a commander can order an airman or Guardian to receive.

Troops can also voluntarily receive the Moderna and Janssen vaccines, which are approved under an FDA emergency use authorization. The Air Force said a fourth AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been approved by the World Health Organization, also meets its vaccination requirement.

Service members will be allowed to apply for a medical or administrative exemption from receiving the shots, including an accommodation on religious grounds. But the Air Force said it will not approve exemptions just because service members have an approved retirement or separation date. Anyone with questions or concerns about the vaccine will be able to meet with military health care providers or chaplains beforehand.

And if airmen or Guardians refuse to get the vaccine without an approved exemption or accommodation, they could be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Air Force did not specify what provision of the UCMJ might apply. However, troops can be disciplined under the UCMJ for failing to obey a lawful order.

In an Aug. 10 briefing with reporters, Kirby said a vaccine requirement would be such an order. “There could be administrative and disciplinary repercussions for failing to obey that order,” he said.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: Sailors and Marines Have 90 Days to Get Vaccinated or Face Punishment

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