About 12,000 Air Force personnel have declined to get vaccinated for COVID-19, causing many officials to question how to address the considerable opposition without causing significant challenges and setbacks within the military, The Washington Post reported.
Officials had warned that if military personnel do not receive the COVID-19 vaccination, they will be subjected to punishment, including possible dismissal from service or receiving a charge from the military justice system, the Post wrote. The deadline for complying with the mandate is Tuesday.
However, with such a significant amount of service members rejecting the vaccine mandate, officials are faced with a dilemma: take action against those who rejected the mandate and possibly face serious setbacks within units that should be ready for a crisis, or go back on a wide-scale requirement established in August by the top military leaders.
If they choose to discipline those who reject the mandate, the wave of dismissals could cause the military to be unprepared in a time of crisis, as many jobs on the line include pilots and aircraft maintainers, according to the Post.
“The fact that it’s a choice leading to potential loss to readiness is striking,” Katherine L. Kuzminski, a military policy expert at the Washington think tank Center for a New American Security, told the news outlet.
While airmen who are close to their departure from the military may receive exemptions and are not required to receive the jab, those who decide to leave the military over the mandate may face problems if they choose to transition to federal government employees or government contractors, which tend to be frequent next steps for veterans, according to the Post. Federal employees are also required to be vaccinated, and most government contractors have the same requirement.
The Air Force is the third-largest military service at 324,000 members, the Post noted. So even a small percentage of the ranks can be substantial.
Vaccine rates in the Air Force have slowed in recent weeks. It is now too late to begin the vaccination process and finish by the Tuesday deadline.