Washington (AFP) – Four students from the Air Force Academy may not graduate or be commissioned as military officers this month because they have refused a COVID-19 vaccine, and may be required to repay thousands of dollars in education costs, according to Air Force officials.
It is the only military academy, so far, where cadets may face such penalties. So far, the Army and Navy said, no seniors have been barred from graduating from the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, or the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, due to a vaccine refusal. Graduation in about two weeks.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last year made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for service members, Including those at the military academies, saying the vaccine is necessary to maintain military readiness and the health of the force.
Military leaders have argued that troops have been required for decades to have up to 17 vaccines in order to maintain the health of the force, particularly those deployed overseas. Students who make it to military academies get a regimen of injections on their first day — such as measles, mumps, and rubella — if they haven’t already been vaccinated. They routinely get regular flu shots in the fall.
Members of Congress, the military, and the public questioned whether the exemption reviews by the military services were fair. Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the mandate, focusing mainly on the fact that very few service members were granted religious exemptions from the shots.
Until the COVID-19 vaccine, very few military personnel sought religious exemptions from any vaccines.
l Col. While the vaccination status may hinder the Big Four’s graduation, “there are still two weeks until graduation, so their status can change as students weigh their options,” said Brian Maguire, a spokesman for the Air Force Academy.
According to Maguire, the four students – whose names have not been released – were informed of the potential consequences, and met with the academy’s director. In addition to these four, there are two freshmen, a sophomore, and six new students at the academy who also declined the vaccine.
Military academies for years required students under certain conditions to reimburse for education if they left during the junior or senior year. They often include those students who have disciplinary or similar problems. Costs can be $200,000, or more, and any final decision on reimbursement is made by the service secretary.
West Point said no members of the 2022 cohort have refused the vaccine.
Across the Army, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have laid off nearly 4,000 active duty personnel for refusing a vaccine. According to recent data from the services, more than 2,100 Marines, 900 sailors, 500 soldiers and 360 airmen have been fired from the Army, and at least 50 have been laid off during entry-level training, before transitioning to active duty.
Those who categorically refuse vaccination without asking for an exemption are still discharged from the hospital. But the courts have halted additional layoffs for service members seeking religious exemptions.
Last month, a federal judge in Texas prevented the Navy from now taking action against sailors who objected to being vaccinated on religious grounds.
In January, US District Judge Reed O’Connor issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Navy from disciplining or firing 35 sailors who sued over the Navy’s vaccine policy while their case was concluded. In April, O’Connor agreed that the case could proceed as a class case and issued a preliminary injunction covering about 4,000 sailors who, on religious grounds, objected to the vaccination.
Also last month, a federal judge in Ohio issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Air Force from disciplining dozens of officers, some additional pilots and reservists seeking religious waivers. The officers, most of whom are from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, filed a lawsuit in February after their exemption requests were denied.
According to the military, up to 20,000 service members have asked for religious exemptions. Thousands were rejected.
According to recent data, the Air Force approved 73 religious exceptions, the Marine Corps approved seven, and the Army approved eight. Prior to the injunction, the Navy conditionally approved one reservist and 26 active-duty requests for religious exemptions, and 10 requests from individual ready reservists. The IRR approvals mean that these sailors do not have to be vaccinated until they are actually called up for service.
About 99% of the Active Navy and 98% of the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army have had at least one shot.