4 Air Force cadets must not graduate to refuse COVID-19 vaccine
4 Air Force cadets must not graduate to refuse COVID-19 vaccine

4 Air Force cadets must not graduate to refuse COVID-19 vaccine

WASHINGTON (AP) – Four Air Force Academy cadets may not graduate or be deployed as military officers this month because they have refused the COVID-19 vaccine and may be required to pay back thousands of dollars in training costs, according to Air Force officials.

It is the only military academy so far where cadets can be subjected to such punishments. The Army and Navy said that to date, none of their seniors have been prevented from graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, or the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, due to vaccine rejections. The graduations are in about two weeks.

Last year, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for service members, including those at the military academies who say the vaccine is essential for maintaining military readiness and the health of the force.

Military leaders have claimed that troops for decades have been required to get as many as 17 vaccines to maintain the health of the force, especially those deployed abroad. Students arriving at military academies are given a regimen of shots on their first day – such as measles, mumps and rubella – if they have not already been vaccinated. And they routinely get regular flu shots in the fall.

Members of Congress, the military, and the public have questioned whether the military services’ assessments of exemptions have been fair. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against the mandate, mainly centered on the fact that very few service members have been granted religious exemptions from the shootings.

Until the COVID-19 vaccine, very few military members sought religious exemptions for any vaccines.

Lieutenant Colonel Brian Maguire, a spokesman for the Air Force Academy, said that although vaccination status may hamper the graduation of the four seniors, “there are still two weeks to the exam so their status may change as the cadets weigh their options.”

According to Maguire, the four cadets – who have not been named – have been informed of the potential consequences and have met with the academy’s superintendent. In addition to the four, there are two juniors, a sophomore and six newcomers to the academy who have also rejected the vaccine.

For years, military academies have required students to reimburse tuition fees under certain circumstances if they travel during their junior or senior years. Often, students engage with disciplinary issues or similar issues. The cost can be as much as $ 200,000 or more, and any final decision on reimbursement will be made by the service secretary.

West Point said there are no class members in 2022 who have refused to get the vaccine.

Across the military, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Navy have deployed nearly 4,000 active duty members to reject the vaccine. According to recent data released by the services, more than 2,100 Marines, 900 sailors, 500 Army soldiers and 360 pilots have been thrown out of the military, and at least 50 were discharged during beginner-level training before going into active service.

Those who flatly reject the vaccine without seeking a dispensation are still being discharged. But the courts have stopped further evictions of service members seeking religious exemptions.

Last month, a federal judge in the Texas Navy prevented the move from targeting sailors who have protested against being vaccinated for religious reasons.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor had in January issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Navy from disciplining or discharging 35 sailors who sued the Navy’s vaccine policy while their case unfolded. In April, O’Connor agreed that the case could continue as a class action lawsuit and issued a preliminary injunction covering about 4,000 sailors who, for religious reasons, have objected to being vaccinated.

Also last month, a federal judge in Ohio issued a preliminary injunction blocking the air force from disciplining a dozen officers and some additional pilots and reservists who sought religious exemptions. Officers, mostly from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, sued in February after their waiver requests were denied.

According to the military, as many as 20,000 service members have asked for religious exemptions. Thousands have been rejected.

According to the latest data, the Air Force has approved 73 religious exceptions, the Marine Corps has approved seven, and the Army has approved eight. Prior to the injunction, the Navy approved a reservist and 26 active service requests for religious exemptions 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 to serve.

About 99% of the active navy and 98% of the air force, navy and army have received at least one shot.

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