Four Air Force cadets might not be allowed to graduate for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and they may also be forced to repay thousands of dollars in government scholarship money.
The four cadets will definitely not join their fellow classmates for the graduation ceremony at the academy’s campus north of Colorado Springs later this month, a lawyer representing three of them, told the local newspaper The Gazette. However, a decision on whether they will be able to receive their degrees or be commissioned as military officers will most likely be determined by future legal proceedings.
“I believe that if somebody changed their mind (about receiving the vaccine), they could wind up being commissioned, graduating late, and not being separated from the Air Force,” said the cadets’ attorney and 1969 AFA graduate Mike Rose. “However they’ve got a limited amount of time to make that decision, and we’re running out of time,” he added.
Lt. Col. Brian Maguire, a spokesperson for the Air Force Academy, noted that “there are still two weeks until graduation, so their status could change as the cadets weigh their options.”
The four cadets, who haven’t been named, have been informed about the potential consequences of their refusal, and have also met with the academy’s superintendent, Maguire told The Associated Press.
In August 2021, after the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the Pentagon announced that all service members — including those at the military academies — would be required to be vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus.
According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, the step was taken to ensure the safety of all service members. Exceptions would be made for those who can’t get a vaccine for medical or religious reasons.
The four AFA cadets applied for a religious exemption, which was denied. Their appeal also didn’t work.
As many as 20,000 service members have asked for religious exemptions, according to the AP. The Air Force has approved 73 religious exemptions, the Marine Corps has approved seven, and the Army has approved eight.