Four cadets at the Air Force Academy may not graduate this month or be deployed as military officers for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, and they may have to pay back thousands of dollars in tuition, Air Force officials said.
So far it is the only military academy where cadets face such punishments. The Army and Navy said none of their seniors are currently being prevented from graduating from the US Military Academy in West Point, NY, or the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, because of vaccine refusals. Graduations are in about two weeks.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last year made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for military personnel, including those in military academies, saying the vaccine is critical to maintaining military operational readiness and the health of armed forces.
Military leaders have argued that troops have had to receive up to 17 vaccines for decades to keep armed forces healthy, particularly those stationed abroad. Students arriving at the military academies receive a series of vaccinations – such as measles, mumps and rubella – on day one if they are not already vaccinated. And they routinely get regular fall flu shots.
Members of Congress, the military and the public have questioned whether the military services’ exemption checks were fair. And several lawsuits have been filed against the mandate, mostly centered on the fact that very few military personnel have been granted religious exemptions from the firing.
Until the COVID-19 vaccine, very few military personnel requested religious exemptions from vaccinations.
Lt. Col. Brian Maguire, spokesman for the Air Force Academy, said that while immunization status could hinder the four seniors’ graduation, “there are still two weeks to go from graduation so their status could change as the cadets weigh their options.” “
According to Maguire, the four cadets – who are not named – were briefed on the potential ramifications and met with the academy’s superintendent. In addition to those four, there are two juniors, a sophomore and six freshmen at the academy who have also declined the vaccine.
Military academies have for years required students to refund tuition if they drop out during junior or senior year under certain circumstances. These are often students with disciplinary problems or similar problems. The cost can be as high as $200,000 or more and the final decision on reimbursement is made by the Service Secretary.
West Point said there are no members of the Class of 2022 who have refused to receive the vaccine.
Across the military, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have fired nearly 4,000 active duty members for refusing the vaccine. According to recent data released by the services, more than 2,100 Marines, 900 Sailors, 500 Army Soldiers and 360 Airmen have been expelled from the military, and at least 50 have been discharged during entry-level training before transitioning to active duty.
Those who flatly oppose the vaccine without requesting an exemption will still be fired. But the courts have halted additional firings of military personnel who requested religious exemptions.
Last month, a federal judge in Texas barred the Navy from taking action against seafarers who opposed vaccination for religious reasons.
US District Judge Reed O’Connor in January issued an injunction preventing the Navy from disciplining or firing 35 sailors who sued the Navy’s vaccination policy while their case was pending. In April, O’Connor agreed that the case could proceed as a class action and issued an injunction against about 4,000 seafarers who had opposed vaccination on religious grounds.
Also last month, a federal judge in Ohio issued an injunction preventing the Air Force from disciplining a dozen officers and some additional Airmen and Reservists who requested religious exemptions. The officers, mostly from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, filed a lawsuit in February after their exemption requests were denied.
According to the military, up to 20,000 military personnel have requested religious exemptions. Thousands were rejected.
According to recent data, the Air Force has approved 73 religious exemptions, the Marine Corps seven, and the Army eight. Prior to the injunction, the Navy conditionally approved one reservist and 26 requests for exemption from active duty and 10 requests from members of the Individual Ready Reserve. The IRR approvals mean that these Sailors do not need to be vaccinated until they are actually called up for duty.
Approximately 99% of the active duty Marines and 98% of the Air Force, Marine Corps and Army have been shot at least once.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/army-ap-air-force-navy-covid-b2078918.html 4 Air Force cadets unable to graduate due to vaccine rejection