23,000 Airmen and Guardians Unvaccinated as Deadline for Guard and Reserve Passes

More than 23,000 Airmen and Guardians across the Total Force remained unvaccinated against COVID-19 as the deadline for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve passed Dec. 2. 

Out of more than 500,000 Total Force members, 95.3 percent are at least partially vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, according to data released Dec. 3 by the Department of the Air Force—the first military department to set a deadline under Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III’s vaccine requirement. 

However, that still leaves more than 10,000 Air Force and Space Force service members seeking religious accommodations to the vaccine requirement; 2,323 who have received a medical exemption; 2,515 with an administrative exemption; and 3,233 who are recorded as having verbally refused the vaccine. Another 4,782 are noted as simply having not started the vaccination process.

Even though the reserve component had an extra month after the Active duty’s Nov. 2 deadline, the Guard and Reserve’s vaccination rate still lags behind—96.9 percent of the Active duty were at least partially vaccinated by their deadline, and that figure has now risen to 97.3 percent. Of the approximately 175,000 Guard and Reserve service members, 91.7 percent are at least partially vaccinated.

That’s been a consistent theme of DAF vaccination data released over the past few months, and other services have reported similar trends. The Navy and the Marine Corps’ deadlines for Active-duty service members passed Nov. 28, with 97.2 percent of Sailors and 95 percent of Marines at least partially vaccinated—but only 88 percent of Reserve Sailors and 79 percent of Reserve Marines, who have until Dec. 28, are vaccinated.

The Army’s Active-duty deadline is not until Dec. 15, and its Guard and Reserve components have until June 2022—96 percent of Active-duty Soldiers have started the vaccination process compared to just 69 percent of the reserves.

When the Air Force COVID-19 vaccine deadline for the Active duty first passed, roughly 800 Airmen and Guardians were said to have verbally rejected the vaccine, putting them at risk of punishment or even separation over refusal to follow a lawful order. Now, 1,108 Active-duty members and 2,125 Guard/Reserve members have verbally refused.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has taken a hard line on the issue, saying it is a “pretty straightforward” question as to whether those who refuse the vaccine will be booted from the service. He also questioned whether those who remain unvaccinated, even with an approved exemption, will be deployable. Those who are unvaccinated will not be able to PCS to a new assignment, according to a recently issued Air Force memo.

Meanwhile, as thousands of Airmen and Guardians seek religious exemptions to the vaccine rule, their chances of success appear to be slim. The Air Force has yet to approve a single exemption request, and the Navy and the Marine Corps haven’t granted any, either, according to their most recent data.

Even if not granted, the requests still pose a logistical issue for the department. Its policy calls for a decision within 30 days on requests for religious exemptions to mandatory vaccines from Airmen and Guardians within the continental U.S. But that policy was written with only a few requests at a time in mind, an Air Force spokesperson previously told Air Force Magazine.

When the Active duty’s deadline passed in early November, the Air Force recorded 4,933 religious exemption requests. A month later, that figure had only dropped to 4,754, with an extra 5,804 Guard and Reserve members now added to the pile.