Before mandating troop vaccine, Stewart says consider national security

Nov 3, 2021, 6:53 PM

Hill Air Force Base announced Tuesday that the 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing have resum...

Hill Air Force Base announced Tuesday that the 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing have resumed daily F-35A flight operations. (Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. John Winn)

(Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. John Winn)

SALT LAKE CITY — Should the US military have the power to discharge soldiers, sailors, and airmen for refusing to be vaccinated? On Wednesday, a Utah congressman shared his insights as a veteran pilot.

Chris Stewart, R-Utah, spoke with KSL NewsRadio’s Dave Noriega and guest host Maura Carabello (of the Exoro Group, based in Salt Lake City). They discussed balancing the need to protect the military from devastating illness with the power of the United States military to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for all personnel.


Deadline for mandated troop vaccine came and went

The deadline for all Air Force and Space Force troops and personnel to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus was Nov. 2.

Nearly 8,500 active-duty members of the Air Force and Space Force have missed the deadline, according to the Associated Press. Also, of the 326,000 active-duty members of the Air Force and Space Force, 95.9 percent are fully vaccinated and 96.9 percent have gotten at least one shot, the Associated Press reported.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby added that 99% of sailors have received the vaccine, 93% of the Marine Corps and the Army “is in the 90th percentile.”

The Pentagon has repeatedly stopped short of saying it will terminate troops for refusing the shot.

“When an individual declines to take a mandatory vaccine, they will be given an opportunity to talk to both medical providers as well as their own chain of command so that they can fully understand the decision they are making,” Kirby said, according to

Get your shots

Military personnel are required to receive as many as 17 vaccines. Stewart said he stood in vaccination lines while serving in the military.

“And yet we all did it because we realized that to engage in warfighting to be deployable, to fulfill our mission, we needed to do that. We may be exposed to anthrax, but this is different for a number of reasons. Number one is they’re allowing no exceptions at all,” Stewart said.


Exemptions for refusing the vaccination include medical, religious and administrative. Decisions on exemptions will be made by unit commanders around the world on  a “case-by-case” basis.

He added there is no exception from vaccination for military people who have naturally recovered after COVID-19.

Related: Military weighs penalties for those who refuse COVID vaccine

“There’s some very credible studies saying they’re actually more protective than they would if they had the vaccine, and they’re allowing no exception for them,” Stewart said.

“While there is some evidence natural infection provides strong immunity, there is variability from person to person and less predictability than vaccine immunity,” said Dr. Emily Sydnor Spivak, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health.

Pilots cost big money

Dave pointed out that it can cost between $7 million and $10 million to train an Air Force pilot. “Are we just going to let those pilots leave?” he asked.

Stewart said in the US intelligence community, up to 40% of the agents have not been vaccinated as of last week. He asked if all of those workers should be terminated on the same day.

“If you’re going to do that, why don’t you think we should talk about it first and inform the American people and make sure they understand and allow them to think if this is a good idea or not?” he asked.

Stewart added there also should be more leeway for people with medical conditions, such as pregnancy, cancer survivors, and those concerned about adverse medical interactions with other medications.

“And they’re accommodating none of these people. . . It’s either you get vaccinated by December 3 or you’re terminated. The implications for our national security is we’re just not going to worry about that. I just think it’s a terrible policy and one that we should highlight. One we should discuss before we go any further,” he said.

Related: Sen. Lee wants safeguard against military discharge for refusing vaccine

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Before mandating troop vaccine, Stewart says consider national security