Air Force Boots 40 Recruits for Refusing the COVID-19 Vaccine

An Air Force master sergeant receives a COVID-19 vaccination.
An Aeromedical Staging Squadron master sergeant receives a COVID-19 vaccination April 4, 2021 at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida. (Master Sgt. Kelly Goonan/U.S. Air Force photo)

Forty would-be airmen or Guardians have been separated from Air Force and Space Force recruit training after refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recruits can opt to get the vaccine before they arrive for training or will be required to get their series at boot camp.

Air Force officials confirmed this week that 40 basic military and technical trainees have been discharged under entry-level separation characterizations for refusing the vaccine.

Entry-level discharges can be awarded to personnel who have yet to serve 180 days; it usually carries no designation such as a good, bad or other-than-honorable discharge, simply equating to a separation from service with a potential for reenlistment if the individual chooses to get the vaccine.

The dismissals come as the deadline for vaccinations in the Air Force and Space Force approaches: Under guidance issued by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, active-duty personnel must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 2, meaning they needed to get their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine -- or their sole Johnson & Johnson vaccination -- by Oct. 19. (Patients who receive any COVID-19 do not reach full immunity for two weeks).

As of Oct. 26, 94.6% of active-duty Air Force and Space Force members were fully vaccinated, while an additional 1.8% had received their first dose, leaving roughly 12,000 airmen and Guardians who missed the deadline.

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Air Force officials said last week that anyone who has not been vaccinated and is not seeking a medical exemption or religious accommodation will face disciplinary action under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- failure to obey an order or regulation.

"To those yet to get vaccinated, the order is clear: You have a responsibility to take action now, protect our nation and those we love, or be held accountable for failing to do so," Kendall said in a press release last week. 

The Air Force has notified commanders that they can use a range of actions to discipline vaccine holdouts, including reprimands, nonjudicial punishment and court-martial.

The Air Force is the first service to announce separations based on the vaccine mandate. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps have differing deadlines and have not yet started separation proceedings for any recruits or officer candidates, according to spokespeople for the services.

The next vaccine deadlines will affect active-duty Navy sailors and Marines, who must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, the services have tallied 249,858 cases of COVID, including 2,166 hospitalizations.

Seventy-one service members have died, including 45 since vaccines became widely available in late spring 2021.

The Navy continues to lead the services in vaccination rates: As of Wednesday, with 99% of active-duty sailors having received at least one dose of a vaccine, fewer than 3,500 sailors remain unvaccinated.

As of Friday, roughly 93% of active-duty Army soldiers are fully vaccinated or have received at least one dose, leaving roughly 3,400 totally unvaccinated.

Since the start of the COVID-19 vaccination effort, the Marine Corps has lagged behind the other services, and this remains true as the service's deadline approaches. As of Thursday, 93% of the active-duty Marine Corps had received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Reserve and National Guard members who aren't on federal orders have differing vaccine deadlines. The Army Reserve and National Guard have until June 30, 2022, to be vaccinated, while the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard have until Dec. 2 of this year.

The deadline for members of the Navy Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve is Dec. 28.

As of Thursday, 53% of the Army Reserve has received at least one shot; 92.5% of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard has gotten at least one dose; 84% of Navy Reserve sailors are partially or fully vaccinated; and 65% of the Marine Corps Reserve has gotten at least one shot, with 53% fully vaccinated.

Department of Defense civilian employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22, while defense contractors face a Dec. 8 deadline.

In a hearing Wednesday Ashish Vazirani, the Biden administration's nominee for deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, argued in favor of the vaccine mandates despite some public criticism from Republicans.

"One of the things that we've learned over the past two years is that COVID is deadly and it detracts from readiness, and that the vaccines are safe and effective,” Vazirani said. “I'm fully supportive of the president's order and the secretary's mandate to vaccinate the force to ensure our readiness." 

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: 92% of Active-Duty Troops Have Been Vaccinated as Mandatory Deadlines Near

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