More than 600 members were separated from the Air Force for refusing an order to take the COVID-19 vaccine, an Air Force official told the House Armed Services Committee this week.
In all, some 8,400 members of the armed services — active-duty, Reserve and National Guard — were separated from the military for refusing the vaccine.
Gina Ortiz Jones, the under secretary of the Air Force, said “the vast majority” of Air Force and Space Force members complied with the order to vaccinate.
She said 40 Air Force officers resigned and 14 officers retired rather than accept the vaccine. In all, 610 Air Force members separated from the service rather than take the vaccine, she said.
“Of the over 500,000 total force Airmen and (Space Force) Guardians, approximately 98% followed the secretary of defense’s lawful order,” Ortiz Jones told the Armed Services Committee in a hearing Tuesday. “As a result, our forces were able to focus on the mission.”
When the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin instituted the COVID-19 immunization mandate in August 2021, the virus had already taken more than 634,000 American lives, she said.
“The decision to immunize was the right decision at the time and in fact the only choice, given the criticality of our mission,” Ortiz Jones said.
“Vaccination was essential in allowing us to deploy and rotate our forces to countries that mandated vaccination,” she added.
Congress directed the Pentagon to rescind the COVID-19 vaccination mandate in the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. The Air Force will reverse disciplinary or “adverse” actions taken against members who had requested an exemption from the mandate to get the vaccine for religious reasons, the Air Force said last week.
On questioning from committee members about situations where the services may still be weighing discipline against those who refused the vaccine, service under-secretaries cautioned that at times, the refusal may have been coupled with other discipline issues.
“Each of these cases has to be evaluated on its own individual merits because they are highly fact-specific,” said Gabe Camarillo, under secretary for the Army.
On Tuesday, enlisted leaders of the military branches told a House Appropriations subcommittee that service members who were forced out of the military due to their refusal to take the vaccine now have a process that allows them to return.
That testimony came in a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.
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