Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for active duty military personnel has hit a roadblock, with thousands of people defying the order.
As many as 12,000 Air Force employees have refused to get the vaccine, and officials now believe it is too late for them to acquire it before the deadline on Tuesday, putting the mandate to the test in the military for the first time. The Washington Post reported.
The vast majority of active-duty airmen, 96.4%, are at least partially vaccinated, according to data from the Air Force. But officials have warned that, barring an approved medical or religious exemption, those who defy lawful orders to be fully immunized are subject to punishment, including possible dismissal from the service or they could be charged in the military justice system.
The challenge now confronting Air Force leaders – how to address potential large-scale dissent in the face of a top health priority that has been deeply politicized – is a bellwether for the dilemma that’s in store across the military’s other services, which have staggered compliance deadlines ranging from the end of November to the middle of next summer and in some cases have experienced far greater resistance to President Joe Biden’s mandate.
A wave of dismissals could jolt the Air Force personnel system and cause significant challenges within units that must be ready to respond to crises at a moment’s notice, especially if some vital jobs – like pilots or aircraft maintainers – are overrepresented among those who could face expulsion, said Katherine Kuzminski, a military policy expert at the Washington think tank Center for a New American Security.
“The fact that it’s a choice leading to potential loss to readiness is striking,” she argued.
Last week a reporter asked Pentagon spokesman John Kirby why religious exemptions to the vaccine in the military were allowed.
“With the vaccine deadlines fast approach I just want to ask you why is it — is it important that service members are allowed to apply for religious exemptions if it’s so important to military readiness to receive those vaccines?” the reporter said.
Kirby said that the number of people of religious exemptions that would be given for any vaccine are “very, very small.”
“Well, because — and it’s not just — it’s not just with COVID. I mean there’s been a long standing policy in the — in the military where if you have a significant religious based concern over a medicine or another vaccine that — that you have the ability to state your concern and to ask for a waiver to get exempt because we want to respect people’s religious beliefs in the military,” he said.
“I mean one of the things that — one of the — one of the freedoms that we fight for here in the military is — religious freedom. And so it’s keeping with our values as an institution to allow people who are concerned from a religious perspective to be able to state that perspective and to have that worked out,” the spokesman said.
“The numbers are very, very small and, writ large. I don’t have the numbers for COVID. I’d point you to the services. That’s — that’s really their bailiwick. But in general, numbers of religious exemption request for any vaccine or medicine are typically very small,” he said.
We believe that — and you’ve heard the secretary say this. The vaccines are safe. They’re effective and “they are really the — one of the best ways we can preserve the readiness of the force to make — to make sure there are men and women are healthy and vibrant and able to do their jobs and we believe that the vaccines allow that.
“And so we’re absolutely committed to the — to the notion that everybody should — everybody who can, you know, unless — and there’s also medical exemptions but everybody who can should be vaccinated,” he said.