Dec 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Air Force denies 2,130 religious exemption requests over COVID vaccine

U.S. Air Force member receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: U.S. Forces Korea via Getty Images
U.S. Air Force member receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: U.S. Forces Korea via Getty Images

The U.S. Air Force has denied 2,130 requests for religious accommodation regarding the Pentagon's coronavirus vaccine mandate, the service announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The U.S. military has scrambled to address service members who defy the vaccination order amidst growing concern over another wave of infections fueled by the Omicron variant.

The big picture: In August, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin directed all military troops to get vaccinated against COVID and directed each branch to set its own deadline.

  • The Air Force indicated that nearly 97% of its active-duty service personnel had complied with the mandate. The deadline to be vaccinated was Nov. 2.
  • The service branch has received more than 10,000 requests for religious accommodation. Each request is reviewed to "accommodate a sincerely held belief without putting mission accomplishment at risk," per the statement.

By the numbers: The Marine Corps said earlier this month that it had received more than 3,100 requests for religious accommodation. While the Army received about 1,700, according to AP.

  • The Navy announced Wednesday that it had 2,844 requests for religious accommodation, none of which have been approved.

What they're saying: "Each member’s request is carefully considered to balance the government’s ... interest in mission accomplishment with the service member’s sincerely held belief," said Gina Ortiz Jones, under secretary of the Air Force, in a statement.

  • "We’ll continue to be as transparent and thorough as possible throughout this process and update everyone on the status of requests in a timely fashion."
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