Air Force gives 9 religious exemption for vaccine mandate
The Air Force on Tuesday said it has granted nine service members religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, making it the second military service to say it has approved such accomodations.
Eight of the exemptions were granted after being requested, the Air Force said in its weekly COVID-19 update. One exemption was granted on appeal, meaning that it was originally turned down.
The Air Force is still processing 2,556 pending requests for exemptions and 732 pending appeals. So far, it has turned down over 3,200 requests for exemptions and just over 440 appeals.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for the military in late August, but each branch is responsible for enforcing the requirement.
The services are still processing thousands of requests for religious accommodations to the mandate.
Last month, the Marine Corps became the first service to approve religious exemptions to the mandate when it approved two such accommodations. According to a weekly update emailed last Thursday, the Marines has since granted three of the over 3,400 requests it has received.
The Army and Navy have yet to approve any requests for religious accommodations to the vaccine. Last month, a Texas federal judge ordered the Navy to not take any adverse actions against a group of 35 Navy Special Warfare service members who refused to get vaccinated for religious reasons.
In late December, the Air Force disclosed that each request for religious exemption is reviewed by Religious Resolution Teams made up of medical providers, judge advocates, and chaplains. These teams make recommendations on how to accommodate a sincerely held religious belief.
Commanders at the major command or field command levels approve the recommendations from the resolution teams. If commanders deny the exemptions, then members can appeal to the Air Force Surgeon General, the Air Force said at the time.
Active-duty airmen had until Nov. 2 to be fully vaccinated. Reservists and Air National Guard members originally had until Dec. 2 to be in compliance, but that deadline was later extended to Dec. 31.
Overall, 96 percent of the total Air Force—including active duty, reservists and Air National Guard members—are either partially or fully vaccinated, according to the weekly update.
The service has booted 142 active-duty Airmen for not complying with the mandate.
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