WASHINGTON — Four cadets at the Air Force Academy may not graduate this month or be commissioned as military officers because they are denied a COVID-19 vaccine, and they face tuition costs, according to Air Force officials. Thousands of dollars may need to be returned in ,
It is the only military academy till date where cadets can face such punishment. The Army and Navy said that so far, none of their seniors are being prevented from graduating from the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, or the Naval Academy in Maryland, Maryland, because of vaccine refusal. Graduation is in about two weeks.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last year made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for service members, including from military academies, saying the vaccine is critical to maintaining military preparedness and the health of the force.
Military leaders have argued for decades that soldiers have needed to receive 17 vaccines, especially those deployed overseas, for decades to maintain the health of the force. Students arriving at military academies get a regimen of shots on their first day — such as measles, mumps and rubella — if they haven’t already been vaccinated. And they regularly get flu shots in the fall.
Members of Congress, the military and the public have questioned whether the review of exemptions by the military services has been fair. Several lawsuits have been filed against the mandate, primarily centered on the fact that very few service members are given religious exemptions from the shots.
Until the COVID-19 vaccine, very few military members had sought a religious exemption for any vaccine.
Air Force Academy spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Brian Maguire said the vaccination status could hinder the four seniors’ graduation, adding that “there are still two weeks until they graduate, so their status may change as cadets weigh their options.” We do.”
According to Maguire, four cadets – who have not been named – have been informed of the possible consequences, and have met with the superintendent of the academy. In addition to those four, the academy has two juniors, one sophomore and six freshmen who have also refused the vaccine.
Over the years military academies have in some circumstances required students to pay tuition costs if they leave during their junior or senior year. Often they include students with disciplinary issues or similar problems. The cost can be up to $200,000, or more, and any final decision on repayment is made by the Secretary of Service.
West Point said that there is no member of the Class of 2022 who has refused a vaccine.
Across the US, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have discharged nearly 4,000 active duty service members for refusing the vaccine. According to the most recent figures released by the services, more than 2,100 Marines, 900 sailors, 500 Army soldiers and 360 airmen have been drafted out of the military, and at least 50 have entered active duty service during entry-level training. He was discharged before leaving.
Those who flatly refuse the vaccine without asking for a waiver are still being given leave. But courts have stayed the additional discharge of service members seeking religious exemption.
Last month, a federal judge in Texas barred the Navy from taking action against sailors who have objected to vaccination on religious grounds.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued a preliminary injunction in January preventing the Navy from disciplining or discharging 35 sailors who sued over the Navy’s vaccine policy while their case was ongoing. Was. In April, O’Connor agreed that the case could proceed as a class action suit and issued a preliminary injunction covering about 4,000 sailors who have objected to vaccination on religious grounds.
Also last month, a federal judge in Ohio granted a preliminary injunction preventing the Air Force from disciplining a dozen officers and some additional airmen and reservists seeking religious exemptions. Officers, mostly from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, filed the lawsuit in February after their waiver requests were denied.
According to the military, 20,000 service members have asked for religious exemptions. Thousands have been denied.
According to the most recent figures, the Air Force has approved 73 religious exemptions, the Marine Corps has approved seven, and the Army has approved eight. Prior to the injunction, the Navy conditionally granted 26 active-duty requests for a reservist and religious exemption, and 10 requests from members of the Individual Ready Reserve. IRR approval means those sailors are not required to be vaccinated until they are actually called up for service.
About 99% of the active duty Navy and 98% of the Air Force, Marine Corps and Army have received at least one shot.