Oklahoma challenging Pentagon's vaccine mandate for Guard
WASHINGTON (AP) — A dispute between Oklahoma's governor and the Pentagon over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is setting up the first critical test of the military's authority to require National Guard troops to get the shot and laying the groundwork for potential protests from other states.
Acting on an order from Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, the state's adjutant general sent a memo telling troops that they aren’t required to get the shot and “no negative administrative or legal action” would be taken against them if they refuse. That order from Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino came as Stitt asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to consider suspending the mandate for members of the Oklahoma Guard.
A senior defense official told reporters Wednesday that a governor does not have the authority to relieve Guard members of their military medical readiness requirements. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing legal matters, said Guard members who refuse to comply will risk losing their National Guard jobs.
As of Wednesday, Austin had not formally responded to Stitt, the first and so far only governor to formally protest the Guard requirement. His challenge raises a number of legal questions and highlights the combative political debate over the vaccine.
The White House and health officials have credited mandates with driving up vaccination rates and reducing deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. It's President Joe Biden's boldest move yet to persuade reluctant Americans to finally get a vaccine, but is facing legal fights by states, workers and federal employees.
The military is a unique testing ground. The Pentagon considers the vaccine critical to maintaining a ready force that can deploy on a moment’s notice to protect the nation, and Guard and...