Over 10,000 Air National Guard and Reserve troops have not taken the mandatory Covid-19 jabs, the US Air Force has said as the vaccination deadline came due.Some may be banned from training or dismissed as a result.
Roughly 11,000 troops were still unvaccinated by Thursday's deadline, the US Air Force said on Friday. That is about 6% of the total Air National Guard (107,000) and Reserve (68,000) personnel. About 3,500 have received medical or administrative exemptions. Another 5,800 have applied for religious exemptions, but none have been approved so far. Some 2,100 or so have officially refused the jab.
The actual number of the unvaccinated may be less, however, as some airmen may have taken the jab at civilian pharmacies without notifying the service, the Air Force said.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told AP that the holdouts will be given the opportunity to get a jab when they report to base.
"Unvaccinated Air National Guard members will report to duty for the drill weekend as usual," Stefanek said. "Commanders will use this opportunity to educate their personnel on vaccination requirements and the consequences of not complying with the mandate."
What those consequences may be is still unclear. Branches of the US military have until next week to publish official guidance on the matter. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo earlier this week that National Guard members who refuse the jab will not be allowed at federally funded training that is required to maintain their status. They will also not get paid or get credit towards retirement or other federal benefits.
The Air National Guard's vaccination deadline was December 2. About 91.5% of the Guard and the Reserve have been vaccinated as of Thursday. About 97% of the active duty USAF personnel, whose deadline was a month ago, received at least one dose.
In August, Austin issued an order to vaccinate all active-duty military members. National Guard components were given more latitude, with the Army setting a deadline of June 2022, citing the much greater size and dispersion of the force.
While most states and service branches have gone along with the orders, the Oklahoma National Guard has challenged the mandate in court.