The Air Force will soon levy another restriction on active duty airmen who aren’t fully vaccinated against the coronavirus: no more moving to new assignments.
Airmen who haven’t received a first or second vaccine dose, including those who are still awaiting a final decision on an exemption request, will be barred from current and future permanent change of station moves starting Nov. 29, the service said in a memo Tuesday.
“This restriction will remain in place until the member is either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or receives an approved medical exemption or religious accommodation,” wrote Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services.
Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated people can only leave for a new duty station if they have already out-processed from their latest base or shipped their household goods and vehicles by Nov. 29. For airmen overseas who are not fully inoculated, the Air Force will delay their eligibility to return to the United States.
“Report not-later-than dates will be adjusted in 120-day increments until the airman is eligible to PCS or the assignment is cancelled,” Kelly added.
Those who are given a medical or religious exemption can head to new jobs as normal.
The new policy is valid for one year, giving the Air Force time to work through exemption requests, appeals for those denied, and separations for those who do not comply with the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate.
It’s expected to affect a small number of troops. Of the 3% or so of active duty airmen who remain unvaccinated, only a fraction of those are eligible to move during the winter. The restriction could hit a larger number of people as the Air Force moves into the busier summer PCS season, though.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, about 94% of the 501,000 active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve troops — or 471,000 people — were fully vaccinated. That rises to nearly 97 percent, or 316,000, of the 326,000 active duty members alone.
In total, around 30,000 guardsmen and reservists have turned down full protection.
More than 9,300 active duty airmen remain unvaccinated, including about 7,800 who haven’t received an exemption decision, have outright refused the shot or haven’t otherwise started a one- or two-jab regimen.
Another 1,460 people had received medical or administrative exemptions as of Tuesday — but no religious accommodations so far. That’s about 400 fewer than the Air Force reported at the Nov. 2 vaccination deadline, though the service did not immediately answer why.
Few people whose exemption requests were rejected have appealed. Others have chosen to get the shots after being turned down, while still others opted to start the process of leaving the military.
More than 772,000 Americans, including 142 Air Force employees, have died during the COVID-19 pandemic so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.