60,000 Air Force Personnel Face Punishment for Failing to Comply With Vaccine Mandate

More than 60,000 Air Force personnel face disciplinary action if they do not meet a looming deadline to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

In a memo in late August, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III directed the secretaries of the military branches to ensure all service members are vaccinated as hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 surged in the military over the summer.

Each of the military services released their own deadlines for their personnel to get vaccinated.

Active duty members of the Air Force must be fully vaccinated by November 2, while Air National Guard and Reserve personnel have until December 2, the Air Force announced in early September.

US Air Force Airman reconstitutes the vaccine
US Air Force Airman Staff Sergeant Michael Reynolds reconstitutes the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at an East Boston Neighborhood Health Center Vaccination Clinic in East Boston, Massachusetts on February 16, 2021. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

More than 60,000 Air Force personnel have just three weeks to meet the November deadline, according to The Washington Post.

Around 81 percent of active duty Air Force personnel are fully vaccinated, while another 14.5 percent are partially vaccinated, according to the latest data from the Air Force.

Service members are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, or two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot.

In a statement last month, the Air Force said those who refuse to comply with the mandate without an approved exemption or accommodation may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Military commanders "retain the full range of disciplinary options available to them under the UCMJ," it added.

The U.S. Army meanwhile, has said that soldiers who refuse the vaccine face being discharged if they refuse to comply with the vaccine mandate.

"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," Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones said in a statement last month.

"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."

Deaths in the military due to COVID-19 have spiked in recent months, driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus.

According to The Post, more military personnel died after contracting the virus in September than in all of 2020. None were fully vaccinated, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Charlie Dietz told the newspaper.

More than 70,000 Air Force personnel have gotten COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 130 who have died.

The Air Force and the Department of Defense have been contacted for additional comment.