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DES MOINES — Some members of the Iowa Air National Guard face a Thursday deadline to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face disciplinary action that ultimately could result in their dismissal for not complying with a military order.
As of Nov. 30, 91 percent of Air National Guard members had been vaccinated, and 80 percent of Iowa Army National Guard members have been vaccinated, Iowa Guard spokesman Kevin Waldron said in a Wednesday email.
Iowa Army National Guard members will have until June 30, 2022, to comply with the directive, Waldron said.
Guard leaders say about 9,000 soldiers have been directed to get a COVID-19 vaccination or risk disciplinary options that could include “separation” as a last resort if they refuse without citing an approved medical or religious waiver.
Earlier this fall, Waldron said the U.S. Department of Defense had made COVID-19 vaccines a mandatory part of the military’s medical readiness, health and welfare requirements.
“The administrative actions that the Iowa National Guard may impose on our service members who fail to comply with lawful orders have not changed,” Waldron said Wednesday. “At the discretion of the unit commander, those who refuse could face disciplinary action, progressive in nature, and could lead to military separation from the military. No adverse action will be taken against members with pending exemption requests.”
The Iowa Air National Guard has 1,948 members, and the Iowa Army National Guard has 7,010 members, Guard spokeswoman Katherine Headley said.
The 9 percent unvaccinated rate “on the Air side” includes medical and religious exemption requests, refusals and individuals planning on retiring in the near future, Headley said, adding, “At this time, there is no strict timeline for disciplinary action to take place for Iowa Air National Guard members.”
In October, the Iowa Legislature approved and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed House File 902, which allows Iowans to collect unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs for refusing to comply with an employer's COVID-19 vaccination requirement.
Also, the new law allows employees in private Iowa businesses to claim they are medically vulnerable or have a religious objection to a mandated vaccine based solely on their statements, rather than with the backing by a bona fide professional.
Waldron said Wednesday that “Gov. Reynolds’ vaccine mandate bill, HF 902, does not impact this week’s requirement.”
While any soldier who refuses the vaccine without an approved medical or religious exemption could face options that include separation, Waldron downplayed that possibility earlier this fall, saying the organization ultimately “wants all of our service members to continue to serve.”
“We have trained these airmen and these soldiers for months and for years and we value them in our organization,” he said. If a Guard member refuses the vaccine, without an approved medical or religious exemption, and gets to the end point, “we will look at what that means for the Iowa National Guard and for those individual service members.”
“Separation is an option on the table that has been laid out based upon Department of Defense guidance.
“The outcomes could vary, depending on the service member, whether they follow and look for a medical or religious exemption,” Waldron said. “The outcomes of that either approved or denied could determine the follow on steps from there. If someone continues to refuse or (is) not willing to proceed with a vaccination, then there are a number of administrative things that we could do and that could be dependent at the time.
“We will look at different options on an individual basis to determine what is the best for them and what is best for the organization.”
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