In one of his first acts as the head of the Oklahoma National Guard, new Adjutant General Thomas Mancino updated the guard’s COVID-19 vaccine policy.
In a memo issued Thursday, Mancino ordered that no members of the Oklahoma National Guard be ordered to take a COVID-19 vaccine.
The memo obtained by The Oklahoman also notes “no negative administrative or legal action will be taken against Guardsmen who refuse the COVID-19 Vaccine.”
The memo came just one day after Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Mancino to replace Adjutant General Michael Thompson, who had served in that role since 2017.
Thompson was a vocal proponent of COVID-19 vaccines and questions have been raised about whether Stitt replaced him because of his stance on mandatory vaccines for members of the military.
Stitt’s office has denied that Thompson was replaced due to his opinion on vaccine mandates, and said the change in command was in the works since October.
“The clarified policy on COVID vaccinations for Oklahoma Army and Air National Guardsmen reflects the Governor’s ability to assert his command authority over the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard while they are within the state’s boarders,” said Lt. Col. Geoff Legler, a spokesman for the Guard. “The clarification will allow our unvaccinated Guardsmen to continue to serve in Oklahoma without any negative repercussion, but it does not provide any protection should they need to attend any military school or training activity run by an active duty component or the Department of Defense.”
The previous COVID-19 vaccine guidance, issued under Thompson, noted that because of an executive order from Stitt, the Oklahoma Military Department “will not direct state employees to be vaccinated or in any way require proof of their vaccination.”
However, Thompson’s guidance had a markedly different tone and urged guard members to get vaccinated.
“All personnel will be given the opportunity to received the vaccine,” the Oct. 27 memo says. “Uniformed members and Title 5 federal civilian employees who elect not to receive the vaccine will be counseled regarding the consequences of not being vaccinated. These consequences will depend on the individual’s status.”
Last week, Stitt asked the federal government to suspend a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for members of the Oklahoma National Guard, saying about 800 soldiers, or 10% of the force, had not yet been vaccinated or don’t intend to get the shots.
In August, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said all military members must immediately begin to get COVID-19 vaccines. Most branches of the military already require troops to receive a host of other vaccinations to be eligible for service.
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