National Guard airmen will have until Dec. 2 to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Air Force announced last week.
The details follow word last month that vaccinations would be required for all military personnel.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has left the details of the vaccination effort up to the service secretaries. All but the Army have publicly announced their plans.
For the Air Force, active-duty personnel have until Nov. 2 to be fully vaccinated. A service member is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, or two weeks after receiving a single dose of a one-dose vaccine.
Officials said the vaccinations will help ensure service members’ health and safety while preserving “the department’s readiness and ability to execute worldwide air and space forces missions.”
“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,” said Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones. “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.”
Exemptions to the requirement are available for medical or administrative reasons, including religious accommodations. No exemptions will be approved solely because airmen have an approved retirement or separation date.
Refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine without an approved exemption may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, officials said. The UCMJ does not apply to the Guard in a non-Title 10 status, but officials said military commanders retain the full range of disciplinary options available to them.
The Air Force timeline was released after the Department of the Navy announced all active-duty Marines and Navy personnel would need to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 28 and all reservists by Dec. 28.
Also last week, the House Armed Services Committee approved a version of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the military to force service members out of the ranks if they refuse a vaccine, but would prevent the military from issuing dishonorable or other-than-honorable discharges.
“I believe that the military should be able to require these vaccines, and I think every person of sound judgment in this country should take a vaccine,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the HASC’s ranking Republican. “However, if somebody in good faith in the military says they can’t do it, they shouldn’t be stained for the rest of their lives with a dishonorable discharge.”
Two active-duty service members, both based in North Carolina, have already challenged the military’s plan to require the vaccine through a federal lawsuit. A judge in the lawsuit has denied a temporary restraining order halting mandatory vaccinations.
Speaking at the 143rd General Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas last week, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, said he was still waiting for the service secretaries’ plans for mandatory vaccinations.
Hokanson said NGB was working to ensure Guardsmen who receive the vaccine are able to do so while under orders that would allow for medical care in the event of a bad response to the vaccine.