Over 11K in Air National Guard and Reserve Miss Vax Deadline; Half Await Religious Exemption

Over 11,000 members of the Air National Guard and Reserve missed the vaccine deadline Thursday, while over 5,800 are seeking religious exemptions, of which none have been granted.

According to data published by the Air Force on Friday, of the approximate 11,000, around 3,000 have yet to start vaccinating and over 2,000 have outright refused. The Air Guard has around 107,000 members and the Reserve has 68,000. Around 3,500 unvaccinated troops have been granted medical or administrative exemptions, according to the Associated Press.

Officials have said the actual total of unvaccinated could actually be a bit lower than what data is reporting. They said because some Air Guard and Reserve members may have gotten shots at their local pharmacies, they could have not filed their data with the Air Force, causing a delay in information.

Members of the Air Guard who report for their monthly drill this weekend will be allowed to participate and receive pay, regardless of whether they are vaccinated, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. However, she said those unvaccinated will receive the opportunity to get a dose when they report to their 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."

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the vaccine is required for Guard troops. He said that National Guard members who don't comply with the mandate will be restricted from drills and training needed to keep their Guard status.

These bans will begin next week, which is the deadline for military services to publish their guidelines dealing with National Guard members who refuse to be vaccinated, Austin said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Vaccine Deadline, Air Guard and Reserve, Unvaccinated
More than 11,000 members of the Air National Guard and Reserve did not meet the deadline to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and could begin to face consequences. Above, Specialist Brady McNeil, a radiologist with the Vermont Army National Guard, draws up a dose of the Moderna vaccine during a clinic at the Brattleboro Area Middle School on April 14, 2021, in Brattleboro. Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP, File

According to data released Friday by the Air Force, about 91.5% of the Guard and the same ratio of the Reserve have been vaccinated as of the deadline on Thursday.

More broadly, about 97% of the active duty Air Force has gotten at least one shot. The deadline for active duty airmen to get the vaccine was a month ago.

Army National Guard members have until June to get vaccines, largely due to the much greater size of the force, which is spread out across the country and may not go to major bases or installations as frequently as Air Guard members.

Austin said those Guard members who are not allowed to participate in drills due to their refusal to be vaccinated will not be paid by the Defense Department. And they will not receive credit that would count toward retirement and other federal benefits. Austin told the service leaders to implement that policy in coordination with the chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Pentagon's top personnel officer.

Air National Guard and Reserve, Unvaccinated, Deadline
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that National Guard members who refuse to be vaccinated won't be able to participate in drills and training needed to keep their Guard status. Above, Air Force Airman Staff Sergeant Michael Reynolds reconstitutes the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at an east Boston health clinic in Massachusetts on February 16, 2021. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images