The U.S Air Force has discharged 27 service members for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine in what is the first enforcement action from any U.S. Military branch.
The Air Force put a mandate in place requiring personnel to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 2. The Pentagon has left it to military branches to determine their own deadlines. While the vast majority of servicemembers have complied with the vaccination mandate, a small number have not. The 27 individuals discharged Monday are all younger, lower-ranking and in their first enlistment term, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said. None of the individuals had applied for specific exemptions.
Each branch of the military is addressing service members who have refused the COVID-19 vaccine, however, the Air Force is the first to enact a discharge. Reports from late October suggested as many as 12,000 Air Force personnel were not in compliance with the mandate at that time.
The military has long required members to receive a number of vaccines before becoming a service member, at this time there are more than 95% of active-duty members who 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.
“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 had encouraged Austin to reconsider the military-wide mandate in November but to no end. 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.”