A dozen Cadets from the Air Force Academy have refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, including three seniors who won’t be allowed to graduate in nine days unless they get the shot, a spokesperson for the Academy confirmed to Air Force Magazine
USAFA’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for May 25, with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III scheduled to give the commencement address. On May 14, the Associated Press reported that four seniors were at risk of not graduating or commissioning into the service. Since then, one of the Cadets has decided to take the vaccine, Academy spokesperson Dean Miller said.
The remaining three will have until May 25 to change their minds, with Miller saying they will be allowed to graduate as long as they are at least partially vaccinated and make “a commitment to the full regimen.”
Should they continue to refuse the vaccine, they will be subject to disenrollment and potentially forced to reimburse the government for their tuition costs, similar to how other Cadets removed from the Academy as juniors or seniors owe either service obligations or tuition repayment.
It is not up to the Academy, however, whether any Cadets who are disenrolled need to pay reimbursements. That decision is made by the Air Force Review Boards Agency director, Miller said.
Among the non-seniors who are still not vaccinated, two are juniors, one is a sophomore, and six are freshmen. Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, superintendent of the Academy, has given Cadets until Aug. 1 to begin a COVID-19 vaccine regimen or face disenrollment.
As of May 10, the Air Force had separated 369 Active-duty Airmen for refusing the vaccine. Those who have been separated cannot receive anything less than a general discharge under honorable conditions under the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
Roughly 1,900 service members across the Active duty, Reserve, and Guard have received medical, administrative, or religious accommodations to the requirement. Thousands more have sought religious waivers to avoid getting the vaccine, but so far only 73 had been granted one, with the vast majority being rejected. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that all the Cadets who have refused the vaccine have also had their accommodation requests denied.
The Pentagon and the Department of the Air Force have repeatedly insisted they can require service members to get the COVID-19 vaccine or face separation, citing the other vaccinations service members are required to receive and potential impacts on readiness if they fail to do so.
A number of Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, however, have mounted legal challenges against the mandate, with varying results. In February, a federal judge in Georgia blocked the Air Force from enforcing the mandate or from taking action against an officer at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. A federal court in Ohio followed suit in April for 18 Airmen, the majority of whom are stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that the Air Force could take disciplinary action against a Reserve officer from California.