Three cadets at the U.S. Air Force AcademyAir Force Academy who have refused the Covid 19 vaccine will not be commissioned as military officers but will graduate with bachelor's degrees, the academy said Saturday.
Dean Miller, academy spokesman, said a fourth cadet who had refused the vaccine until about a week ago, decided to be vaccinated and will become an Air Force officer.
Miller said that while the three will get a degree, they will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force as long as they remain unvaccinated. He said that a decision on whether to require the three to reimburse the United States for education costs in lieu of service will be made by the secretary of the Air Force.
As of Saturday, the Air Force is the only military academy wherecadets are not being commissioned due to vaccine refusal. All of the more than 1,000 Army cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, graduated and were commissioned as officers earlier in the day, and all were vaccinated.
The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, said Saturday that none of the Navy or Marine Corps seniors are being prevented from commissioning due to vaccine refusals. That graduation is later this week, and the Air Force ceremony is Wednesday in Colorado. The U.S. Air Force Academy Board conducted a standard review of whether this year s class had met all graduation requirements on Friday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is scheduled to speak at the Air Force graduation, made the Covid 19 vaccine mandatory for service members, including those at the military academies, because it said it is critical to maintaining military readiness and the health of the force.
Military leaders have argued that troops have been required to get as many as 17 vaccines in order to maintain the health of the force, particularly those deploying overseas. Students arriving at military academies get a regimen of shots on their first day if they aren't already vaccinated, such as measles, mumps and rubella. They get flu shots in the fall.
Members of Congress, the military, and the public have questioned if the exemptions by the military services have been fair. There have been several lawsuits filed against the mandate, mainly centered on the fact that very few service members have been granted religious exemptions from the shots.
Very few military members sought religious exemptions to any vaccine until the Covid 19 vaccine.
A week ago, Lt. Col. Brian Maguire, an Air Force Academy spokesman, said that all four of the cadets had been informed of the potential consequences and met with the academy s superintendent. He noted that they still had time before graduation to change their minds, and one did.
The military academies have required students to repay tuition costs if they leave during their junior or senior year. Students have disciplinary issues or similar problems that are often involved in those cases. The costs can be as much as $200,000, or more, and the final decision on repayment is made by the service secretary.
As many as 4,000 active duty service members have been discharged for refusing the vaccine, according to the military, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Those who refuse the vaccine without seeking an exemption are still being discharged. The courts have stalled further discharges of service members who sought religious exemptions.
As many as 20,000 service members have asked for religious exemptions, according to the military. Thousands of people have been denied.
At least 99% of the active Navy and 98% of the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force have one shot.