I am Active Duty military, and I submitted in Sep 2009 a request for exemption from vaccination based on my religious beliefs, in accordance with the joint instruction on immunization and chemoprophylaxis [AFJI 48-110, section 2-6.b.(3)]. I was pretty far along in the process, having met with a chaplain and been counseled by a military physician, when I became pregnant in April. The joint instruction (section 2-5) defers pregnant women from immunization unless benefits outweigh the risks, and then the immunization has to be in consultation with the woman's obstetric health care provider. My pregnancy "profile," which documents my health status and ability to deploy, etc, specifies "no immunizations unless cleared by OB provider." I took that to mean that my commander, who has been helpful, could defer acting on the waiver request until the pregnancy was over, and told him that was my interpretation. The only vaccine I am "due" for is the flu shot, and I did not have to get it last season, since the waiver request had been submitted and was pending. BTW, I applied for separation from the military twice, once for "force shaping", (ie, we have too many people, who wants to get out?), and once for the pregnancy. Both were denied by the military. I have a couple of years left on my active duty service commitment.
So all was good in not getting vaccinations and having the waiver on hold, until this afternoon when I got a call from a JAG officer (lawyer) on base, who told me that because the waiver was already out there, just ignoring it was not an option for my commander. He said that we could either 1) push forward with the waiver process, which I believe means the request will go before the General officer in charge of the base or my Major Command (not sure which?), OR 2) I could submit an email to my commander temporarily withdrawing the request, only because I am pregnant, and I am not eligible for vaccinations at this point anyway, having not been cleared by my OB provider. He told me that I could make it very clear in the email that it in no way reflects a change in my religious views, and that I hold firm to the religious beliefs outlined in the original request, and that I intend to resubmit the request after the pregnancy is over and I am no longer medically unable to receive vaccination. He ended the call by telling me that he represents the interests of the Air Force in a me vs them scenario. He also asked what religion I identified with, out of his own curiosity he said, and I told him that I don't identify 100% with any established religious organization, but that I follow an earth-based religion.
So. Here are my questions ... (I know this is all very technical and military-ish, but I hope someone knowledgeable can give me some advice):
1. Could it be seen as insincere on my part to withdraw the request during the pregnancy, and then resubmit after the pregnancy is over? The JAG officer specifically told me, and I made him repeat, that withdrawing and resubmitting will have no adverse impact on the request. But he is serving the best interests of the military, not me.
2. Did I make a mistake in engaging the JAG officer and telling him any info about my religious affiliation, or lack thereof? I already had to explain my specific religious objections to vaccination in the original request, and I met with a chaplain for the purpose of delving even further into my beliefs. So, it's not like the information I gave him isn't already "out there" somewhere documented. Still, this guy was a lawyer. For the military.
Sigh. Thanks for any help.
I used to do military vaccinations when I was AD... My personal opinion is to continue with your religious exemption - it's gotta be changed on your record/dog tags/etc. Even then, they'll try to vax you. The only other temporary solution, other than relying on your OB to not let you get vax'd is a previous serious reaction/allergy.
pm or email me if you want more description. (email my screen name w/a dot between y and 2 and it's at mail dot com)
I also used to be active duty military (and am still an inactive reservist), and I have to say, I've NEVER heard of a pregnancy separation request being denied! I'm quite surprised! Granted, I was only active for 4.5 years, maybe it was more common than I thought.
I'd say that you should continue with the religious waiver. Because even while pregnant I was forced to get the flu shot (the OB office would only waiver women in the 1st tri, and would make you get it as soon as you hit 12 weeks) I argued that it's listed as a Cat C for pregnant women, but they didn't care, they made me get it. So don't think you're safe just because you're pregnant!
YOu're right that JAG is working in the best interest of the military, not you, but JAG is also pretty touchy with religious stuff, so they will probably tread softly with this issue. Did you find a Chaplain that is being helpful? I see that you already met with one, did he/she support you?
Good luck, and please update us!!!
The chaplain I met with was very supportive. Everyone has actually been very supportive throughout this whole process, except the military chief of medicine, who thought I was off my rocker. Still, he was respectful.
I think I can word the email so that will at least require a little pause if it does come down to an argument about sincerity. I think this is my best option at this point.
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