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4 Air Force Academy cadets may not graduate for refusing Covid shots

WASHINGTON — Four Air Force Academy cadets may not graduate or be commissioned military officers this month because they refused the Covid-19 vaccine, and they may be required to repay thousands of dollars in fees tuition, according to Air Force officials.

It is the only military academy, to date, where cadets can face such sanctions. The Army and Navy have said that currently none of their seniors are barred from graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, or the Naval Academy in New York. Annapolis, Maryland, due to refusal of vaccines. Graduations are in about two weeks.

Last year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for service members, including those at military academies, saying the vaccine is essential for maintaining military readiness and force health. .

Military leaders have argued that troops have for decades had to get as many as 17 vaccines to maintain the health of the force, especially those deployed overseas. Students arriving at military academies receive a regimen of vaccines on their first day – such as measles, mumps and rubella – if they are not already vaccinated. And they get regular flu shots in the fall.

Members of Congress, the military, and the public questioned whether exemption reviews by the military services had been fair. There have been several lawsuits filed against the mandate, mostly centered on the fact that very few military personnel have won religious exemptions from the shootings.

Until the Covid-19 vaccine, very few servicemen requested religious exemptions to all vaccines.

Lt. Col. Brian Maguire, a spokesperson for the Air Force Academy, said that while vaccination status may hamper the graduation of the four seniors, “there are still two weeks until graduation. , so their status may change as cadets weigh their options.”

According to Maguire, the four cadets – who are not named – were briefed on the potential consequences and met with the superintendent of the academy. In addition to these four, there are two juniors, one sophomore and six freshmen at the academy who also refused the vaccine.

Military academies have for years required that students, under certain circumstances, reimburse tuition if they leave during their junior or senior year. Often these involve students with disciplinary or similar issues. Costs can reach $200,000 or more, and any final reimbursement decisions are made by the duty secretary.

West Point said no members of the Class of 2022 refused to be vaccinated.

Across the military, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have fired nearly 4,000 active duty service members for refusing the vaccine. According to recent data released by the services, more than 2,100 Marines, 900 sailors, 500 army soldiers and 360 airmen have been expelled from the army, and at least 50 have been discharged during entry training range, before moving to active service.

Those who categorically refuse the vaccine without asking for an exemption are always sent back. But courts have blocked further dismissals of service members who have requested religious exemptions.

Last month, a Texas federal judge barred the Navy from taking immediate action against sailors who objected to vaccination on religious grounds.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor had in January issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Navy from sanctioning or firing 35 sailors who continued the Navy’s vaccination policy while their case unfolded. In April, O’Connor agreed the case could go forward as a class action and issued a preliminary injunction covering about 4,000 sailors who objected on religious grounds to vaccination.

Also last month, a federal judge in Ohio granted a preliminary injunction preventing the Air Force from sanctioning a dozen officers and a few additional airmen and reservists who were seeking religious exemptions. The officers, mostly from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, filed a lawsuit in February after their requests for exemption were denied.

According to the army, no less than 20,000 servicemen have applied for religious exemptions. Thousands have been refused.

According to recent data, the Air Force has approved 73 religious exemptions, the Marine Corps has approved seven, and the Army has approved eight. Prior to the injunction, the Navy conditionally approved one reservist and 26 applications for religious exemption on active duty, and 10 applications from ready individual reserve members. IRR approvals mean that these sailors do not have to be vaccinated until they are actually called up for service.

Approximately 99% of the active duty Navy and 98% of the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army received at least one shot.

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