Air Force sets deadline for airmen to receive COVID-19 vaccine

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Capt. Shamira Conerly, 149th Medical Group, shows Master Sgt. David Romero, 149th Maintenance Squadron, the vaccine dose he will be receiving on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, March 18, 2021. (US Air National Guard Photo by Senior Airman Ryan Mancuso)

Karin Zeitvogel

Stars and Stripes

Active-duty airmen and Space Force guardians must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Nov. 2 unless they have a valid exemption, Air Force officials have said.

That means they need to be at least two weeks beyond having the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a single dose of a one-dose vaccine, a statement issued Friday said.

Air Force reservists and Guardsmen have until Dec. 2 to meet the inoculation requirements, which were announced two weeks after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered all troops to get the shot after the Food and Drug Administration approved the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Aug. 23.

Military providers will initially offer only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but airmen and guardians can continue to volunteer to receive vaccines authorized for emergency use by the FDA, including the two-shot Moderna vaccine and the single-dose Janssen vaccines, the statement said. Those can be given by military or civilian providers.

The obligation to meet the vaccination deadline will only be waived for service members who are granted medical or administrative exemptions, including for religious reasons, the statement said. Having an approved retirement or separation date will not lead to exemption if that is the sole reason cited by a service member.

Those who don’t have an exemption but refuse to have the vaccine could be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“We are taking an aggressive approach to protect our service members, their families and their communities from COVID-19 and the highly transmissible delta variant,” Undersecretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones said in the statement. “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 Air Force deadlines were announced a week after the Navy said that active-duty Marines and sailors must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28 and reservists by Dec. 28.

Vaccination is mandatory even if a service member has been infected with the coronavirus, the Navy said in a statement, noting that all COVID-19 deaths in the service have been among “individuals not (fully) immunized.”

The Army has not yet announced a timeline for soldiers to be fully vaccinated.

Airmen and guardians who have proof of vaccination in their medical records will be considered to have met the Air Force’s coronavirus inoculation requirements.

The process for airmen and guardians to follow to obtain exemptions for medical reasons is explained in AFI 48-110_IP, Immunizations and Chemoprophylaxis for the Prevention of Infectious Diseases, and, on religious grounds, in DAFI 52-201, Religious Freedom in the Department of the Air Force, the statement said.

Stars and Stripes reporter David Edge contributed to this report.

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