Military Vaccine Exemption Declaration

Vaccination Exemption Questions


Can my child use Child & Youth Programs (CYP), including the Child Development Center (CDC), Family Child Care (FCC), Child & Youth Services (CYS), Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools, or other similar services without vaccines?

Yes!  The process for DoDEA schools is really simple: fill out this form.  I suggest keeping it really simple in Block 4.  Most people only writing “religious reasons.”  The fewer details you give, the better.  After that, your children can be admitted to school immediately.  The process CYP (including CDC, FCC, CYP, and similar) takes more time.  You have to write a declaration of exemption (I suggest using my template below), sign it, and send it to the CDC or CYS.  Then they have to route it up to the Air Force Directorate of Services (AF/A1S) for approval.  It’s just a formality, but it’s a formality that can take two to four months, so be sure to start the process early.
Even if you don’t plan to use CYP (including CDC, FCC, CYP, and similar), I suggest getting an exemption just in case you ever change your mind or need it for extraordinary circumstances.  Remember, this is the military where Murphy’s Law rules all.  I can’t tell you how many spouses have needed surgery during their sponsor’s deployment, had to drop everything to tend to a family emergency leaving the active duty member to care for the children, or for some other weird reason needed these services unexpectedly.  Trust me: you’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Does my exemption have to be approved by anyone?

Unfortunately, yes.  The relavent Air Force Instruction, AFI 34-144 was updated in March 2016.  This update made the exemption process clear (before it said not to provide care to children without all vaccines required by Air Force policy.  Prior to this update, if  you wanted an exemption you would have had to do your homework to prove that the Air Force did not have a policy requiring dependents to get vaccines (nor would it be legal if they did), then convince the Director of the program you want to use that you didn’t need to follow the process for an active duty member to get a vaccine exemption.  Now the exemption process is clearly outline, but it requires approval from the Air Force Directorate of Services (AF/A1S).

Can I be asked what religion I am?  Do I have to be any certain religion (or religious at all) to have a religious exemption?

Absolutely NOT!  The U.S. Supreme court says that “a religious belief is subject to protection even though no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not advocate or require such belief.”  What this means is that, according to the Supreme Court, your own belief system, sense of morality, and/or ethics are your religion.  It’s the legal equivalent of “sin is relevant to the believer.”  It also means that atheism is a religion.  You’re welcome to choose to recognize the authority of others (pastor, priest, rabbi, shaman, the scientific community, etc), but if you and your chosen religious authority don’t agree on something, your own belief is your personal religion and the only thing that’s valid in the eyes of the law.  For this reason, you cannot legally be asked what religion you are – because it’s a generalization that doesn’t matter.  In the eyes of the law, no two people have the same religious beliefs.  What does all this mean for you?  If you believe that you have a religious, philosophical, and/or ethical responsibility to do what you believe is in the best interest of our child and you do not believe that vaccines are in the best interests  of your child (regardless of why you believe that), then your basis of exemption is religious.  This is also why so few states have formal philosophical exemptions.

Do I have to inform my chain of command and/or my spouse’s chain of command?

No.  Vaccines are medical, which means that vaccination status and/or exemptions are Protected Health Information (PHI) according to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which means that you don’t have to share it.  Military medical ethics get a little murky, but the bottom line here is that your child is a dependent and there is no murkiness or gray areas on that, even in the military.  Medical information of a family member is never required to be disclosed.  If a health care provider discloses a non-military-member’s vaccination status to anyone without written consent, they have violated the terms of HIPAA.  In the rare event that this happens, please report the provider to Patient Advocacy and the Board of Medicine in the state in which they are licensed.

What do I do if an agency refuses to accept my exemption?

First and for most, inform them that they’re discriminating against you based on your religious beliefs which is against the law.  Next, ask for a written statement that says why they’re not accepting your exemption declaration and following the proper procedures to route it for approval and contact the Inspector General (IG) and/or Equal Opportunity (EO) on your base and open a formal investigation on the discrimination.  After hearing feedback from many families going through this process, I encourage you to open an investigation with BOTH agencies at the same time.  If you have any questions about this process, feel free to contact me.

Can family members be denied command-sponsorship for an OCONUS (overseas) assignment due to their vaccination status?

Not in the Air Force.  None of the overseas screening forms even mention vaccines, so it probably won’t even come up.  NEVER reveal your or your children’s vaccination status unless you’re specifically asked.  If you are asked, deflect the question if possible  by saying something like “That’s not relevant” or “Is that part of the questionnaire?”  If you’re pressed about it, tell the truth matter-of-factly – short and sweet is the right tactic to take here.  “We don’t vaccinate for religious reasons, but that does not impact our medical clearance in any way.”

What does it mean if an overseas medical clearance is denied?

This means that the military won’t sponsor you overseas but it doesn’t mean that you can’t go!  Non-Command-Sponsored (NCS) dependents are relatively common at many OCONUS bases.  Some things that would be different: 1.) You’d have to switch to TriCare Standard so on-base medical care would be on a space-available basis, 2.) You’d have to get a visa from the country where you’ll be living (this is not usually difficult), 3.) You’d have to pay your own airfare, and 4.) Getting a job on base could be more difficult depending on the country, 5.) If ALL dependents are NCS then it may be more difficult (but not impossible) to get on base housing.  Access to base, the exchange/commissary, housing allowances, etc will not be affected.  Remember that these differences ONLY apply to the dependents who are NCS.

Sample Vaccine Exemption Declarations

(for CDC, FCC, CYS, and similar)

SUBJECT: Vaccine exemption statement
1. I, YOUR NAME, am hereby exercising my right to declare a religious exemption to vaccinations on behalf of my dependent(s).  The reason for this exemption is genuine and sincere religious beliefs.  The U.S. Supreme Court held in Frazee V. Illinois Dept. of Security, 489 U.S. 829, held that a religious belief is subject to protection even though no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not advocate or require such belief. This ruling is also reflected in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended Nov. 1, 1980; Part 1605.1-Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Religion.
2. I acknowledge that I am aware of the risks and benefits of choosing to vaccinate and choosing not to vaccinate my child.
3. I acknowledge that exempted individuals are subject to exclusion from working in and/or attending CYP during an outbreak.
4. This exemption declaration is IAW AFI 34-144, dated 02 March 2016, Para, which states:

Requests for religious exemptions must include a statement from the employee/parent/guardian explaining the reason for objection, an acknowledgement that they are aware of the risk involved when choosing not to immunize, and acknowledgement that exempted individuals are subject to exclusion from working in/attending in CYP during an outbreak.

5. This declaration of exemption is valid for any and all DOD and USCG-sponsored primary and secondary schools, childcare centers, or similar facilities, regardless of location, for any and all vaccinations for any and all dependents, regardless of their dependency status (including foster and/or adoptive children), for an indefinite period of time.