As many as 12,000 Air Force employees have refused to get the vaccine and now officials say it is too late for them to get it by the Tuesday deadline, posing the first test of the mandate with the military, The Washington Post reported.
The vast majority of active-duty airmen, 96.4%, are at least partially vaccinated, according to data from the Air Force. But officials have warned that, barring an approved medical or religious exemption, those who defy lawful orders to be fully immunized are subject to punishment, including possible dismissal from the service or they could be charged in the military justice system.
The challenge now confronting Air Force leaders – how to address potential large-scale dissent in the face of a top health priority that has been deeply politicized – is a bellwether for the dilemma that’s in store across the military’s other services, which have staggered compliance deadlines ranging from the end of November to the middle of next summer and in some cases have experienced far greater resistance to President Joe Biden’s mandate.
A wave of dismissals could jolt the Air Force personnel system and cause significant challenges within units that must be ready to respond to crises at a moment’s notice, especially if some vital jobs – like pilots or aircraft maintainers – are overrepresented among those who could face expulsion, said Katherine Kuzminski, a military policy expert at the Washington think tank Center for a New American Security.
“The fact that it’s a choice leading to potential loss to readiness is striking,” she argued.
Last week a reporter asked Pentagon spokesman John Kirby why religious exemptions to the vaccine in the military were allowed.
“With the vaccine deadlines fast approach I just want to ask you why is it — is it important that service members are allowed to apply for religious exemptions if it’s so important to military readiness to receive those vaccines?” the reporter said.