Unvaccinated People Will Be Barred From Here, Starting This Week
COVID vaccine mandates have become increasingly common over the past few months, as officials work to ensure that case numbers continue do go down. Following an intense summer surge, cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. have decreased by more than 7 and 10 percent, respectively, in the last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Several states have begun mandating vaccines for state employees and health care workers, while more major cities have started requiring that businesses collect proof of vaccination before patrons enter indoor spaces. Now, a new set of restrictions has begun this week.
The Pentagon mandated that U.S. military service members get fully vaccinated against COVID after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine in late August. That means that if you want to serve in the military, you will have to be vaccinated against COVID, with various mandates for different branches staggered through the rest of the year and into 2022.
For the Air Force, that deadline just passed on Nov. 2. The department has already kicked out 23 recruits from boot camp who refused to get vaccinated ahead of this deadline, and says that individuals must now be vaccinated before joining the branch, Fox News reported.
"Any active-component Airman or Guardian who has refused to obtain a qualifying vaccine by Nov. 2 and has not received, or, is not in the process of seeking, a medical exemption or religious accommodation will be in violation of a lawful order and subject to discipline under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice," the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs said.
According to the military branch, nearly 97 percent of active duty Airmen and Guardians have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, as of Nov. 3. Over the next 30 days, the Department of Air Force (DAF) will review requests for medical exemptions and religious accommodations. The DAF has already approved 1,634 medical exemptions, but it has not approved any religious accommodations.
Butch Bracknell, a military legal expert and retired Marine lieutenant colonel who served as a legal advisor for the 1st Marine Division, told Task & Purpose that part of the reason religious exemptions are so hard to obtain is because service members have had to receive many mandatory vaccines before joining. Members would have to demonstrate that they have opposed getting other vaccines in the past.
"Did you also not take the smallpox vaccine? Did you also not take the Hep B? Show when you've been opposed to this in the past and how did this all of a sudden become a part of your closely held religious belief. Is it limited to this vaccine? Because if it's limited to this vaccine, that's a bad argument," Bracknell explained. "Show me why this one is different. I can't think of a way that they can do that."
The next military deadline will be Nov. 28 for service members from the Navy and Marines, per WebMD. Active-duty Army service members have until Dec. 15 for vaccinations, while Army National Guard and Reserve members won't face mandates until June 2022.
According to Pentagon officials, there is no military-wide punishment for unvaccinated individuals, as each department will decide how to handle those who are seeking exemptions or just refusing to get the vaccine. "Each case is going to be treated specifically and individually as it ought to be," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told the Associated Press.
But certain departments have already warned of discharges. On Oct. 14, the Navy released new guidance, stating that any sailor not fully vaccinated by Nov. 28 and any selected reserve member not fully vaccinated by Dec. 28 will face discharge from the Navy. According to the guidance, those removed from the Navy for refusing the vaccine could receive a general discharge under honorable conditions, which could result in the loss of some veterans' benefits.
"With COVID-19 vaccines now mandatory for all military members, the Navy has announced plans to start processing for discharge those who refuse vaccination without a pending or approved exemption," the department states in its new guidance.