Vaccine mandate for Air Force members expires; Hill AFB reviewing noncompliant cases
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The first wave of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination deadlines for all active-duty military members struck Tuesday, affecting personnel in the Air Force and Space Force. But many have turned their backs on the order.
The mandate to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 2 was declined by up to 12,000 Air Force personnel, according to The Washington Post.
Forty Air Force service members, mostly new recruits still in training, have so far been discharged, per reporting by U.S. News & World Report.
A statement issued by Hill Air Force Base says if an airman fails to comply with a direct order to be vaccinated, without an approved medical or religious exemption, they may be subject to a range of disciplinary measures.
Katherine Kuzminski, a military policy expert at the Center for a New American Security, told The Post that the potential loss to readiness due to the amount of service members rejecting the mandate is “striking.”
Top military leaders could face serious setbacks in the event of a crisis, with dismissal from service and military charges among possible punishment for failing to get vaccinated, The Post wrote.
Military members with a retirement or separation date no later than April 1, 2022, are not required to be vaccinated.
Applications for religious accommodations are being reviewed by chaplains, commanders and attorneys at each level of command and exemptions are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to the HAFB statement.
Commanders and directors may permit those who are not fully vaccinated access to the base under the screening and testing requirements of Office of the Secretary of Defense Force Health Protection guidance, including periodic testing, face coverings and social distancing in all Department of Defense facilities, Hill’s statement said.
If an active duty Airman wishes to retire or separate in response to the vaccine mandate, they must have had a commander-approved submission before Nov. 1.
In the meantime, unvaccinated airmen at HAFB are still working in their assigned positions pending potential outcomes.
Other military branches, as well as civilian employees, contractors and reservists, will face deadlines in the weeks and months ahead.