U.S. District Judge Matthew McFarland, a Trump appointee, entered a preliminary injunction against the military branch.
McFarland two weeks earlier issued a temporary restraining order. He asked the military to make its case as to why he shouldn’t enter a preliminary injunction, a longer-lasting measure.
In a 16-page filing, government lawyers said blocking the military from punishing unvaccinated members “would interfere with ongoing legal proceedings and would otherwise be improper, particularly in light of significant new developments.”
Among the developments, they pointed to U.S. drug regulators authorizing a COVID-19 vaccine made by Novavax. Unlike the three shots previously available in the United States, the Novavax vaccine doesn’t use fetal cells in its development, manufacturing, or production.
“Those class members whose religious objections were based on mRNA technology or the use of fetal-derived cell lines are no longer substantially burdened by the COVID-19 vaccine requirement because this option is now available,” the lawyers said.
Included in the opposition was a declaration from Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, the director of staff for the Air Force’s headquarters. He claimed that unvaccinated members “are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and substantially more likely to develop severe symptoms resulting in hospitalization or death” and that exempting a large number of airmen “would pose a significant and unprecedented risk to military readiness and our ability to defend the nation.”
Of the 14 members who died with COVID-19 since March 14, according to Schneider, 12 were unvaccinated.
McFarland wasn’t convinced.
“Defendants fail to raise any persuasive arguments,” he said.
Chris West, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, called the ruling “such a big win” on Twitter.
The Air Force has approximately 497,000 members. Of those, 97.1 percent have received a primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine as of July 11.