The Air Force Department is giving active-duty troops until Nov. 2 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to policy guidance from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced Friday.
While unvaccinated airmen and guardians may voluntarily receive the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca vaccines, according to an Air Force release, troops who must be compelled to get vaccinated will only receive the Pfizer product, dubbed Comirnaty following its Food and Drug Administration approval in late August.
Reservists have until Dec. 2 to receive their vaccinations, per the guidance.
“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,” Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones said in the release. “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.”
Just under 52 percent of the total Air Force and Space Force are at least partially vaccinated, according to the Defense Department’s most recent numbers. In June, the head of the Defense Health Agency told reporters that the active-duty component was 61 percent vaccinated, falling behind the Army and Navy, but slightly ahead of the Marine Corps.
DoD numbers show that 6 percent of airmen and guardians have contracted COVID-19.
The Air Force is imposing a significantly stricter vaccination turnaround time than the Navy and Marine Corps, which announced Aug. 24 that all active-duty, uniformed personnel had 90 days ― until late November ― with another month for reservists.
The previous day, as the Pfizer vaccine received full FDA approval, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that the vaccine would become mandatory for all service members, though each service would be in charge of setting its own deadlines.
The Army has not yet released its policy.
All of the services have a process to apply for exemptions, either based on medical necessity ― including past poor reactions, or current conditions or treatments that suppress the immune system ― or based on religious objections.
“Prior to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, service members have access to healthcare providers and chaplains to address questions or concerns with COVID-19 vaccination,” according to the Air Force release. “Additionally, commanders must consult with their servicing Staff Judge Advocate for additional guidance on vaccination non-compliance.”
A refusal to receive the vaccine could result in action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to the release.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.