WASHINGTON (AP) — Three U.S. Air Force Academy cadets who have refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be eligible for commission as military officers but will graduate with a bachelor’s degree, the academy said Saturday.
Academy spokesman Dean Miller said a fourth cadet who had refused to receive the vaccine until a few days ago has decided to get inoculated and will be commissioned an Air Force officer.
Miller said in a statement that while the other three will receive a degree, “they will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force while they remain unvaccinated.” He added that the Secretary of the Air Force will make a decision about forcing them to reimburse the country for their education costs.
As of Saturday, the Air Force was the only military academy not to commission cadets for refusing the vaccine. The more than 1,000 Army cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduated and received commissions as officers earlier on Saturday, and all of them had been vaccinated.
The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, said Saturday that none of its senior Navy or Marine Corps cadets will be barred from commission for refusing to be vaccinated. That graduation will be this week, and the Air Force ceremony will take place Wednesday in Colorado.
Before the ceremony, the Air Force Academy board Friday conducted its standards review of whether this year’s class met all the requirements.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is scheduled to speak at the Air Force commencement, last year established a COVID-19 vaccination requirement among all members of the military, including those at military academies, ensuring that the The vaccine is essential to maintain military readiness and the health of its elements.
According to the military, about 20,000 service members have applied for vaccination exemptions on religious grounds. Thousands of requests have been rejected.
About 99% of active-duty members of the Navy, and 98% of the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
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