DoD drops COVID vaccine requirement; most airmen already vaccinated

Earlier in January, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rescinded the August 2021 memo mandating that all members of the U.S. military under DoD authority be vaccinated against COVID-19 and the November 2021 memo on vaccination requirements for the National Guard and Reserves.

The change was established by the National Defense Authorization Act for the current fiscal year.

As of mid-January, the Montana National Guard personnel were 95 percent fully or partially vaccinated with three percent seeking religious exceptions and two percent who have neither reported receiving the vaccine nor started the exemption process, according to their public affairs office in Helena.

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“As directed by the Secretary of Defense and in keeping with the NDAA, the National Guard will no longer require our members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. I am, however, proud of the more than 92percent of National Guard members who received the vaccine and directly contributed to the readiness and health of our force.,” Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Daniel Hokanson said in a statement.

The Department of the Air Force provided the following percentages of COVID vaccines, but did not break out numbers for Malmstrom Air Force Base.

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The percentages of fully vaccinated as of this month are:

  • active duty: 99 percent
  • Air Guard: 94.5 percent
  • Reserve: 95.9 percent
  • total force: 97.6 percent

In a Jan. 23 memo, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall wrote that no one current serving in the Air Force would be separated solely on the basis of their refusal to received the COVID vaccine if they sought a waiver on religious, administrative or medical grounds.

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Kendall wrote that the Air Force would update the records of any of those who sought waivers to remove any adverse actions solely associated with denials of those requests, including letters of reprimand. He wrote that the Air Force would cease any ongoing reviews of current Air Force member religions, administrative or medical waiver requests solely for exemption for the COVID vaccine or appeals of denials of such requests.

Former Air Force members can petition the Air Force discharge review board and board for correction of military records to individually request a correction to their personnel records, including those regarding the characterization of their discharge, Kendall wrote.

Austin, the defense secretary, wrote in his memo that the Pentagon would continue to promote and encourage the COVID vaccine for servicemembers.

He wrote that the department has made COVID vaccination “as easy and convenient as possible, resulting in vaccines administered to over two million service members and 96 percent of the force — active and reserve — being fully vaccinated. Vaccination enhances operational readiness and protests the force.”