JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Air Education and Training Command officials continue their aggressive approach to achieving full vaccination against COVID-19 to protect personnel and their families and continue recruiting, training and educating Airmen and Guardians.
“The readiness of the Air Force is directly tied to continuing the First Command’s mission,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of AETC. “We are fighting through COVID by balancing risk to mission and risk to the force, and we must continue getting fully vaccinated, which will help us safely meet the readiness requirements our nation demands.”
On Sep 3, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall directed that Airmen and Guardians be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 2 for active duty personnel and Dec. 2 for Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel. In advance of this directive medical personnel at AETC installations acquired sufficient doses and made plans to meet increased demand for the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 ® vaccine (widely referred to as “Comirnaty®” upon receipt of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval) at medical treatment facilities.
Airmen are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing the second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, or two weeks after receiving a single dose of a one-dose vaccine. This includes one or two-dose options authorized under EUA or full FDA approval. Airmen who have proof of vaccination documented in their medical records per this definition will be considered as meeting the vaccination requirement.
“To meet the Department of the Air Force requirement for full vaccination by Nov. 2, or Dec. 2 for reservists, Airmen need to get their first dose before September 28,” said Col. (Dr.) Michael Higgins, AETC’s command surgeon. “The medical community has improved its processes since we began administering vaccines late last year, and we are ready for the surge now.”
Airmen may apply for a medical or administrative exemption, including religious accommodation. The process for obtaining exemptions for all mandatory vaccinations is provided in AFI 48-110_IP, Immunizations and Chemoprophylaxis for the Prevention of Infectious Diseases, for medical exemptions, and DAFI 52-201, Religious Freedom in the Department of the Air Force, for religious accommodations. Airmen will be placed in a temporary administrative exemption status while the member’s request is being processed.
Airmen seeking medical exemptions require an appointment with a military medical provider who will perform a specific medical review and evaluation. The Airman’s medical provider determines whether a basis exists for a medical exemption.
The first step for Airmen seeking a COVID-19 vaccination exemption for religious reasons is requesting the waiver in writing to their commander. The request must include the nature of the accommodation requested, the religious basis for the request, a comment on the sincerity of the request, and the substantial burden on the member’s expression of religion. Airmen requesting a religious accommodation will undergo medical, spiritual and legal counseling and education. The review process for religious accommodation includes input from the chain of command, medical experts, chaplains, and judge advocates.
“The Department of the Air Force has a compelling government interest in mission accomplishment,” said Webb, who is the approval authority for AETC. “This interest includes military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, and health and safety for both the member and the unit. Each request will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and will consider the appropriate factors to ensure consistency and transparency in the decisions.”
Noncompliance with immunization requirements may adversely affect an Airman’s readiness for deployment, assignment, international travel, or result in other administrative consequences. No exemptions from the vaccine will be approved solely because Airmen and Guardians have an approved retirement or separation date.
Refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, absent an approved exemption or accommodation, may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Military commanders retain the full range of disciplinary options available to them under the UCMJ.
For more information, Airmen and Guardians are encouraged to work with their chain of command, chaplains and local military treatment facilities.