In one of his first appearances as chief of the Oklahoma National Guard, new adjutant general Thomas Mancino updated the guard’s COVID-19 vaccine policy.
In a memo released 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 that “no negative administrative or legal action will be taken” against guards who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
The memo came just one day after Governor Kevin Stitt appointed Mancino to replace former Adjutant General Michael Thompson, who had held that role since 2017.
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Thompson was an outspoken supporter of COVID-19 vaccines.
Stitt’s sudden replacement for Thompson has raised questions about whether the former adjutant general was impeached over his views on mandatory vaccines for members of the military. Most military branches require troops to receive numerous vaccinations to qualify for service.
Stitt’s office has denied that Thompson was being replaced over his views on vaccine mandates, saying the change of order had been in the works since October.
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Clarified COVID immunization policy for Oklahoma Army and Air Force National Guard soldiers reflects the governor’s ability to assert command authority over the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard as they reside within the state lines,” said Lt. Col. Geoff Legler, a spokesman for the guard. “The clarification will allow our unvaccinated Guardsmen to continue serving in Oklahoma without adverse effect, but it will not provide any protection if they are required to attend military school or training activity from an active duty or Department of Defense.”
Thompson’s previous COVID-19 vaccine guidelines noted that because of an executive order from Stitt, the Oklahoma military would not require state employees to be vaccinated or show proof of vaccination.
In an Oct. 22 executive order, Stitt wrote that his administration believes vaccines work and are effective, but should not be mandated by government agencies.
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Thompson’s guidance praising the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and detailing the consequences guards could face if they refuse the shots took a markedly different tone from the memo issued Thursday by Mancino.
“All staff will have the opportunity to receive the vaccine,” Thompson wrote. “Uniformed members and Title 5 federal civilian employees who choose not to receive the vaccine will be advised of the consequences of non-vaccination. These consequences will depend on the status of the individual.”
Consequences may include being unable to mobilize or receive training at federal military installations, Thompson wrote.
In the Oct. 27 memo, Thompson wrote that COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing or reducing the severity of the COVID-19 virus.
“Freedom, however, is always the standard in Oklahoma,” Thompson wrote. “The decision to get vaccinated is ultimately a personal choice that each of us must make. This personal decision regarding vaccination, like any other, will have consequences.”
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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 had no intention of doing so. are to get the shots.
In August, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said all military members should begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines immediately.
In an Oct. 21 resignation letter provided by the governor’s office, Thompson acknowledged that he was resigning with effect from Jan. 15, 2022 at Stitt’s request.
“I appreciate you giving me this time to coordinate the transition between now and January 15, 2022,” Thompson wrote. “I wish the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard all the best for the future.”
A Stitt spokesman said that after the governor decided he wanted to promote Mancino to assistant adjutant general, there was no need to hold Thompson on until January.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct a quote with an incorrect attribution. The statement about the National Guard’s new COVID-19 vaccine policy was from Lt. Col. Geoff Legler, a spokesman for the guard.