OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma National Guard members could find their careers in jeopardy if they refuse to comply with the Pentagon’s deadline to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a Department of Defense official said Wednesday.
Governors may not relieve individual members of the Guard from their obligation to comply with a valid medical readiness requirement established by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, said John Kirby, a Pentagon press secretary, in a statement.
Gov. Kevin Stitt remains at odds with the Pentagon after vowing to take no administrative or legal action against hundreds of National Guardsman who plan to refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Austin is requiring all military troops be vaccinated or face dismissal.
More than 200 — or nearly 11% — of the Oklahoma’s National Guard airmen remained unvaccinated as of Wednesday night, according to the latest count by the Oklahoma Governor’s Office. National Guard airmen have until Dec. 2 to receive the vaccine, according to a spokeswoman for Stitt.
The Army National Guard has until June 2022 to comply. About 8,200 Oklahomans serve in the National Guard.
Stitt’s office has said that nearly 10% of the state’s National Guard personnel have said they either have not or do not plan to get vaccinated ahead of Pentagon deadlines.
The National Guard is a state-controlled, federally-funded force that takes orders from the governor unless called up by federal officials. When called up by the president, the Guard takes its orders from federal authorities. Experts said National Guard units receive as much as 95% of their funding from the federal government.
Kirby said all service members in the active military and reserves are required to comply with the requirement. He also said the Pentagon is not aware of any governor who is attempting to prohibit members from receiving the vaccine, and federal officials do not see the mandate as placing any individual member in conflict with state authorities.
“Failure to receive the vaccine may jeopardize an individual member’s status in the National Guard; any impact to a member’s status in their state militia is an issue for state authorities,” he said.
The statement did not say what consequences a National Guard member could face for not being vaccinated or if their officers also could face disciplinary action if they fail to enforce Austin’s edict.
A spokeswoman for Stitt’s office and a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma National Guard both said they have not received any direct communication from the Pentagon since Stitt ordered the policy change last week. It was carried out in a memo released last week by Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, newly appointed to lead the apolitical National Guard in Oklahoma.
Mancino has previously said nothing in the order prevents anyone from taking the vaccine. It also does not eliminate the federal COVID-19 vaccine requirement.
Stitt previously had asked Austin to suspend the vaccine requirement given the number of Oklahoma National Guard personnel who are refusing to be vaccinated.