US Air Force: 97% vaccinated, nearly 8,500 miss deadline

Nearly 8,500 active duty members of the Air Force and Space Force have missed the deadline for getting COVID-19 vaccinations, including 800 who flatly refused and nearly 5,000 with pending requests for a religious exemption, the Air Force said Wednesday.

The Air Force said that of the 326,000 active duty members of the Air Force and Space Force, 95.9 percent are fully vaccinated and 96.9 percent have gotten at least one shot.

"A vaccinated force is a protected force, better able to deploy and to defend our interests anywhere at any time," said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. "Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is a necessary requirement to keep our people safe and healthy. This is a readiness issue."

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Tuesday was the Air Force deadline for all active duty members to receive vaccinations. The Air Force deadline was the first of all the military services, providing an initial glimpse into how America’s military will handle the mandate.

The Air Force said 8,486 service members had not been vaccinated as of Tuesday. Of that total, 800 had "verbally refused." Another 2,753 had not started the vaccination process for reasons not cited in the Air Force announcement, and 4,933 have pending requests for exemption on religious grounds.

The Air Force said that by Dec. 2 it would complete its review of requests for medical and religious exemptions. Thus far, a total of 1,866 requests for medical or administrative exemptions have been approved. It said zero requests for religious exemptions have been approved.

This sets thousands of disciplinary actions in motion and sets the stage for exemption procedures that could drag on for weeks.

The vaccination deadline for the Air Guard and Reserve is Dec. 2.