As the Nov. 2 deadline for members of the Air Force and Space Force to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 approaches, the percentage of vaccinated service members in the department has jumped significantly, the latest data show.
In a Sept. 28 update, the Department of the Air Force reported that 75.1 percent of Active-duty Airmen and Guardians are fully vaccinated, with another 18.8 percent partially vaccinated, for a total of 93.9 percent that have received at least one shot of the vaccine.
On Sept. 6, the day after the Nov. 2 deadline was announced, 66.5 percent were fully vaccinated and eight percent were partially vaccinated, a total of 74.5 percent, meaning nearly 20 percent of Guardians and Airmen have received a dose of the vaccine in the last three weeks.
While there is still more than a month before Nov. 2, the process of getting fully vaccinated takes time—two-dose vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech’s, the only vaccine approved for full use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, require three weeks between shots, followed by an additional two weeks after the second shot to be considered fully vaccinated by the department. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, however, has received emergency use authorization, which the department will accept, and requires just one shot, followed by two weeks.
While the percentage of those unvaccinated has shrunk, thousands of Airmen and Guardians still need to get the shot. That group becomes even larger when considering the Guard and Reserve. When those two components are added to the Active duty, the entire department’s vaccination rate falls to 86.5 percent.
That figure still represents a substantial increase from Sept. 6, when it stood at 68.4 percent. But with a slightly slower rate of increase, it does suggest that Guard members and Reservists remain slightly more reluctant to get the vaccine. The department will not require them to be fully vaccinated until Dec. 2.
The Air Force set the earliest deadline among the Defense Department for its troops to be fully vaccinated. The Navy and the Marine Corps aren’t requiring Active-duty Sailors and Marines to be vaccinated until Nov. 28, and the Army is giving Soldiers until Dec. 15.
Airmen and Guardians can apply for an exemption to the vaccine requirement on medical or religious grounds. To those who don’t receive one, however, a range of punishments may apply, from non-judicial punishment to courts martial. Air Force and Space Force leaders have not yet said how they plan to handle those situations.