WASHINGTON (AP) – More than 6% of National Guard and Reserve troops have missed the COVID-19 vaccine deadline and may begin to face the consequences if they fail to receive mandatory vaccinations or receive an exemption. The Air Force said Friday.
Air Guard members who report their monthly drills this weekend will be eligible and paid – whether vaccinated or not, those without vaccinations will have the opportunity to receive the vaccine when they show up for their base, according to Air Force Spokesman Ann Stefanek.
The Air Force said about 11,000 military personnel had not received the vaccine by Thursday’s deadline. Some 107,000 Air Guard troops and 68,000 in the reserve, and some 3,500 unvaccinated, received medical or administrative benefits. However, the total number of unvaccinated people may be slightly lower than current data indicate. Officials warned that information for the Guard and Reserves could be delayed as some of the civilian pilots may have received injections at local pharmacies and have not yet submitted their details to the service.
“Unvaccinated air National Guard fighters will be on duty as usual on the weekend of the exercise,” Stefanek said. “Commanders will take this opportunity to educate their staff about vaccination requirements and the consequences of not meeting mandates.”
According to data released Friday by the Air Force, about 91.5% of the Guardsmen and the same ratio of reserves were vaccinated as of Thursday’s deadline. More than 5,800 of the unvaccinated are seeking exemption for religious reasons, and this procedure is in progress. So far, the service has not approved exemptions for religions. Just over 2,100 people have officially refused injections.
More broadly, about 97% of Air Force personnel on active duty received at least one shot. The deadline for vaccinating active duty pilots expired a month ago.
The deadline for members of the Air Force Guard is the first. Members of the Army’s National Guard must be vaccinated by next June, largely due to the much larger force that is scattered across the country and may not visit major bases or sites as often as members of the Air Guard do.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has made it clear that the vaccine is mandatory for the National Guard. In a memo earlier this week, he said that members of the National Guard who have opted out of the COVID-19 vaccine will be prohibited from participating in federally funded exercises and training that are necessary to maintain their guard status.
However, these bans have not yet entered into force. Austin said the military should publish its official guidelines on how to deal with members of the Guard who refuse the vaccine by next week.
Austin said that those members of the guard who are not allowed to participate in the exercise due to their refusal to vaccinate, the Department of Defense will not pay. And they won’t get credit that would count towards retirement and other federal benefits. Austin told the service leadership to implement this policy in coordination with the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the Pentagon’s senior personnel officer.