Military Vaccine Exemptions Scarce as Deadlines Approach

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The vast majority of active-duty troops have received a COVID-19 vaccine ahead of upcoming deadlines, with few exemptions granted so far.

About 97% of the nation’s 1.3 million active service members have received at least one dose, and 87% have been fully vaccinated. As part of that, exemption requests for religious beliefs have come under close scrutiny, and no branch of the military has yet approved a religious exemption, The New York Times reported.

The military and Department of Veterans Affairs are serving as models for the rest of the country, as federal contractors and large companies determine how to meet the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for employees.

The Department of Defense has granted a limited number of exemptions, the newspaper reported, including to those who were already leaving the military or have specific medical issues. Officials declined to share how many service members had requested an exemption but said not many were requested or granted.

To request a religious exemption, active-duty service members and veterans must show an established history of adherence to a religion that prohibits vaccines. But leaders of most major religious organizations have recommended that members get vaccinated.

“If members of the military want to apply for one, then they should be able to,” John Kirby, a spokesman for the Pentagon, told the newspaper.

“And they should be able to make their case,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Air Force and Space Force became the first divisions to hit their vaccine mandate deadline for members to be fully vaccinated, with a 97% vaccination rate.

About 12,000 members of the Air Force and Space Force had not received a first dose by the deadline, according to NBC News. That’s about 3% of the 326,000 members of the two branches.

Few of the unvaccinated service members had requested a medical exemption, NBC News reported. Most simply haven’t reported their vaccination status.

Military commanders have a range of options to encourage vaccination, starting with education and public health campaigns. After that, unvaccinated service members could face transfers, travel restrictions, limits on deployments, and requirements to repay bonuses, according to

The next deadline for service members is Nov. 28, when the Navy and Marines must be fully vaccinated or receive an exemption. Active-duty Army service members must be vaccinated by Dec. 15, while Army National Guard and Reserve members have until June 2022.


The New York Times: “Military Grants Few Vaccine Exemptions as Deadlines Loom.”

NBC News: “About 12,000 members of Air Force, Space Force not vaccinated for Covid at deadline.” “Military Weighs Penalties for Service Members Who Refuse COVID-19 Vaccine.”

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