Air Force Discharges 27 For Refusing COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

(Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Anders Hagstrom White House Correspondent
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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)

FORT KNOX, KY – SEPTEMBER 09: Preventative Medicine Services NCOIC Sergeant First Class Demetrius Roberson administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a soldier on September 9, 2021 in Fort Knox, Kentucky. The Pentagon, with the support of military leaders and U.S. President Joe Biden, mandated COVID-19 vaccination for all military service members in early September. The Pentagon stresses inoculation from COVID-19 and other diseases to avoid outbreaks from impeding the fighting force of the US Military. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

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.”

House Republicans urged Austin to reconsider the military-wide mandate in November, but to no avail. The representatives argued that getting vaccinated is a personal decision and imposing a mandate could negatively impact military readiness.

“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.”