The U.S. Air Force has discharged 27 members after they refused to take a COVID-19 vaccine in what is believed to be the first separations from the military regarding personnel refusing to obey orders to get the shots.
The service gave its active-duty members until Nov. 2 to get the vaccine, though thousands of members have thus far either refused to follow the order or have sought exemptions.
On Monday, Ann Stefanek, a spokeswoman for the Air Force, said that the members affected were the first to be administratively separated for cause following their refusal to take the vaccine, DailyMail.com reported.
Stefanek went on to say that all 27 members were airmen in their first enlistment term, indicating they were mostly younger, lower-ranking members.
The Air Force did not disclose what type of discharge they received, but current legislation winding its way through Congress would limit the U.S. military’s options regarding vaccine-refusal discharges to “honorable” or “general discharge under honorable conditions.”
In August, after being directed to do so by President Biden, the Pentagon issued orders to all service branches to devise a regulation mandating that personnel get a COVID-19 vaccine. The order included all active duty elements as well as those belonging to the Reserve components and the National Guard. Each service branch established its own deadline and procedures; the Air Force’s deadline was the earliest.
Most service members in all branches have gotten their vaccines, previous reports have noted.
In issuing his directive, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin claimed that the vaccines are crucial to maintaining the health of the force as well as the ability of the military to respond to national security crises.
DailyMail.com reported that none of the more than two dozen airmen discharged sought any type of exemption — medical, administrative, or religious, according to Stefanek.
The outlet added that a number of officials from other service branches have said that thus far, they believe the Air Force is the only one that has moved to discharge members for refusing to comply with the vaccine order.
While it is possible that some of the 27 Air Force personnel had other issues on their service records, Stefanek said the common denominator for all of them was their refusal to take the vaccine. She went on to note that during the first three quarters of this year, around 1,800 airmen were discharged for failing to follow other lawful orders.
Current Air Force data cited by DailyMail.com revealed that more than 1,000 Air Force members have refused the vaccine while more than 4,700 others have sought a religious exemption. As of last week, around 97 percent of the Air Force’s active-duty component was vaccinated.
“Members of the Navy and the Marine Corps had until November 28 to get the shots and their Reserve members have until December 28,” DailyMail.com reported, adding: “Army active-duty soldiers have until Wednesday, and members of the Army National Guard and the Reserves have the most time to be vaccinated, with a deadline of next June 30.”
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