Active-duty Airmen and Guardians have until Nov. 2 to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve have until Dec. 2.
Personnel will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine, according to a Department of the Air Force release, or two weeks after the first dose of a single-dose vaccine.
Because two-dose vaccines are usually given three weeks apart, that means those who have never received a dose at all may have to squeeze in the five-week process over the next eight weeks.
Exemptions may apply on medical or religious grounds. A forthcoming separation date won’t factor in, according to the release: “No exemptions from the vaccine will be approved solely because Airmen and Guardians have an approved retirement or separation date,” according to the release.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III mandated vaccination a day after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received full Food and Drug Administration approval, directing the services to set “ambitious timelines.”
The guidance approved by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall on Sept. 3 is “taking an aggressive approach” to the “highly transmissible Delta variant” to protect the whole force, including everyone’s families and the local communities, said undersecretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones in the release. “As members of the nation’s Armed Forces, our Airmen and Guardians must be able to respond to situations around the globe—being fully vaccinated will help us safely meet the readiness requirements that our national security depends on.”
The full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine precipitated the mandate, but troops may also fulfill the requirement by voluntarily receiving another vaccine that has the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization, “including Moderna, Janssen, and AstraZeneca, from both military and civilian providers,” according to the guidance.
As of Aug. 30, 65 percent of Active-duty Department of the Air Force personnel, including both Air Force and Space Force, were fully vaccinated. Another 6.2 percent were partially vaccinated, according to the most recent statistics published by the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs. Adding in Guard and Reserve troops brought the percentages down overall—to 60.7 percent fully vaccinated and 5.2 percent partially vaccinated. Out of the 39,071 recorded cases among the DAF’s military personnel, 16 resulted in hospitalization, with two deaths.
Limitations on activities authorized for unvaccinated personnel are already underway. Kendall has authorized only vaccinated Airmen, Guardians, and Department of the Air Force civilians to attend AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference on Sept. 20-22, for example. Unvaccinated personnel will be limited to virtual attendance, Kendall determined.
New legislation in the House of Representatives would ban dishonorable discharges for troops who refuse to comply with the vaccine mandate.