The Air Force has discharged 27 members for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine in the first such enforcement action from any U.S. Military branch, the Associated Press reported Monday.
The Air Force required its personnel to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 2, but the Pentagon has allowed other branches to determine their own deadlines. While the vast majority of servicemembers have complied, a small number have refused. Each of the 27 members discharged Monday were younger, lower ranking and in their first enlistment term, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek told the AP. None of the individuals sought out specific exemptions.
Each branch of the military is currently in the process of addressing members who have refused the COVID-19 vaccine, but the Air Force is the first to reach a discharge. Reporting from late October suggested as many as 12,000 Air Force personnel were not in compliance with the mandate, though it is unclear how many remain unvaccinated now or how the Air Force is dealing with specific cases. (RELATED: Navy Announces New Protocol For Sailors Who Refuse COVID-19 Vaccine)
The military has long required members to receive a number of vaccines before entering service, and more than 95% of active duty members have already taken the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Pentagon.
President Joe Biden encouraged Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to impose a vaccine mandate in August. Biden had instructed Austin to investigate “how and when” to implement a vaccine mandate for service members in late July.
“Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible,” Biden wrote at the time. “These vaccines will save lives. Period. They are safe. They are effective.”
“Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, Operation Warp Speed achieved the impossible by developing multiple vaccines in record time. I got the vaccine because the benefit outweighed the risk based on the status of my personal health, but an authoritarian mandate could have serious consequences for America’s national security,” Republican Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson said at the time. “The decision to get vaccinated should be a personal choice for every American, just as President Biden previously supported before going back on his word and just as Vice President Harris desired when she said she would not get the vaccine if President Trump told her to.”