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First members of military are discharged for refusing COVID vaccine

The Air Force has discharged 27 service members for refusing to receive a COVID vaccine, marking the first service members to be involuntarily discharged for balking the rule. 

A spokesperson for the Air Force said the 27 active duty members discharged received counseling about the vaccines, and when they still refused, commanders made the decision to discharge them for refusing to comply with the Pentagon's vaccine rule, a lawful order. 

All 27 have been in the Air Force for less than six years and may have had additional reasons for their discharge but refusal to get a COVID vaccine was one of the reasons for the discharge. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin mandated in August that troops receive a COVID vaccine but left it up to the services to set the deadlines for their troops. The Air Force's deadline of November 2nd for active duty airmen to be fully vaccinated was the first deadline among all the services. 

Virus Outbreak Pentagon Discharges
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Nov. 17, 2021, in Washington. The Air Force has discharged 27 people for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, making them what officials believe are the first service members to be removed for disobeying the mandate to get the shots. Alex Brandon / AP

The Navy, Air Force, and the Army have outlined their process for discharge if service members continue to not comply with the mandate. Each will include counseling and an education process on the vaccine before moving into more disciplinary actions then onto discharges. 

"It remains the Secretary's expectation that the -- the mandatory vaccine will be implemented in a -- in a compassionate and thoughtful way," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said last week. 

Kirby said Pentagon data showed approximately 90% of the active duty force is fully vaccinated and about 74% of the total force, including the Reserve and National Guard, is fully vaccinated.

The Army's deadline for its active duty force is December 15. The deadline for the active-duty component of the other services has already passed. The next hurdle will be the services' Reserve and Guard forces. The final deadline is June 30, 2022, for the Army National Guard. 

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