Military allows requests for religious exemption from vaccine mandate

Airmen assemble syringes for use in distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine inside the pharmacy area of community vaccination center at Ford Field in Detroit on May 3. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH
Caption
Airmen assemble syringes for use in distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine inside the pharmacy area of community vaccination center at Ford Field in Detroit on May 3. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/WESLEY FARNSWORTH

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley

Active-duty military personnel have a “path” to seek exemptions from a requirement to take COVID vaccines, a Department of Defense spokesman said Tuesday.

That path is defined by each military branch’s regulations, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in public remarks Tuesday.

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“There is a religious exemption possibility for any mandatory vaccine, and there’s a process that we go through to counsel the individual both from a medical and from a command perspective about using a religious exemption,” Kirby said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the vaccine will be required of active-duty personnel beginning next month.

“I want you to know that I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensure, whichever comes first,” Lloyd said in an Aug. 9 memo.

“By way of expectation, public reporting suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could achieve full FDA licensure early next month,” the secretary also said in the memo. “The intervening few weeks will be spent preparing for this transition. I have every confidence that service leadership and your commanders will implement this new vaccination program with professionalism, skill, and compassion.”

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base leaders have urged Airman to get the vaccine.

“If you’re not vaccinated, please remain educated and up-to-date on various vaccine options,” Col. Christian Lyons, commander of the 88th Medical Group at Wright-Patterson, said in an Aug. 4 Facebook town hall. “Vaccines have proven to work. Over 99% of deaths and 97% of hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated population.”

“We take freedom of religion and worship seriously, in the military, it’s one of the things that we sign up to defend,” Kirby said Tuesday. “And so it’s something that’s done very carefully.”

There are exemptions for mandatory vaccines for medical reasons as well, Kirby said.

The Air Force has 280,352 fully vaccinated personnel and 28,843 partially vaccinated, according to the most recent DOD data. (The Air Force had 335,485 total active-duty personnel as of Sept. 30, 2020.)