Three cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy who refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine won’t be commissioned as military officers, though they will graduate with bachelor’s degrees, according to The Associated Press.
A fourth cadet refused the vaccine until about a week ago but decided to get vaccinated, so that cadet will graduate and become an Air Force officer.
The three cadets won’t be commissioned “as long as they remain unvaccinated,” Dean Miller, a spokesman for the Air Force Academy, told the AP.
Frank Kendall, the Air Force secretary, will determine whether to require the three cadets to reimburse the U.S. for education costs in place of their service.
As of Saturday, the Air Force is the only military academy where cadets aren’t being commissioned because they refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, the AP reported.
All the Army cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point — more than 1,000 cadets — graduated and were commissioned this weekend. All were vaccinated.
The Naval Academy at Annapolis said none of the Navy or Marine Corps graduates are being prevented from becoming an officer due to vaccine refusals, the AP reported.
The Air Force graduation ceremony is Wednesday in Colorado. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is scheduled to be the speaker.
Last year, Austin made coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for service members, including those at military academies. He noted that the vaccine was critical for maintaining military readiness and the health of service members.
About 20,000 service members have asked for religious exemptions, and thousands have been denied, the AP reported.
Until the COVID-19 vaccine, few military members have requested religious exemptions to any vaccines, the AP reported. For decades, troops have been required to get up to 17 vaccines to stop diseases, especially when deploying overseas to countries with severe outbreaks or endemic transmission of viruses that aren’t typically in the U.S.
All four of the U.S. Air Force cadets had been informed of the potential consequences of vaccine refusal and had met with the academy’s superintendent, Lt. Col. Brian Maguire, an academy spokesman, told the AP. They had time before graduation to change their minds, and one did.
Across the military, about 4,000 active-duty service members have been discharged from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps for refusing to get vaccinated, the AP reported. Those who refused the vaccine without seeking an exemption are being discharged. Others who have requested religious exemptions have pending lawsuits that have stalled their discharges for now.
Overall, about 99% of active-duty service members in the Navy have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, followed by 98% of the Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps.