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Thousands of Air Force personnel set to miss next week's COVID-19 vaccination deadline

The deadline for active-duty Air Force personnel to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is Tuesday, and officials estimate that up to 12,000 airmen won't hit that target, officials told The Washington Post.

The Air Force is the third-largest military service, with 324,000 active-duty airmen, and more than 94 percent are fully vaccinated and 1.8 percent partially vaccinated. Of those who have not yet received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, it's unclear how many are outright refusing to get vaccinated compared to those who are seeking a religious or medical exemption or are close to leaving the service.

The vaccine directive was made in August, and Air Force officials have warned that those who defy immunization orders are subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal from the service. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots for full vaccination, with the doses given several weeks apart, so anyone who has not yet received their first shot will not be fully vaccinated by Tuesday. 

When people join the military, they are required to get several vaccines, including chickenpox and hepatitis A. Katherine L. Kuzminski, a military policy expert at the Center for a New American Security, told the Post she will be paying attention to whether there is a mass dismissal of personnel who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and if it will hit certain positions — like pilots or aircraft maintainers — harder than others. "The fact that it's a choice leading to potential loss to readiness is striking," Kuzminski said.