Stitt says the Pentagon's COVID vaccine requirement is 'irresponsible,' requests exemption for Okla. National Guard
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt wants the Pentagon to "consider suspending" what he calls the "irresponsible" requirement that members of the Oklahoma National Guard be vaccinated against COVID-19, one of many vaccines required for members of the armed forces.
“It is irresponsible for the federal government to place mandatory vaccine obligations on Oklahoma national guardsmen which could potentially limit the number of individuals that I can call upon to assist the state during an emergency,” Stitt wrote in a Tuesday letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Stitt said he estimated that 10% of the guard "have not and do not plan on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine."
The Oklahoma National Guard said they were unable to comment on whether or not they had asked for the letter because of a policy against commenting on matters involving politicians, and referred Public Radio Tulsa to the governor's office and the Department of Defense.
The Pentagon did not return multiple requests for comment on whether Austin had seen or had a response to the letter. But in a Wednesday press briefing, speaking on vaccine mandates generally, press secretary John Kirby said, "Nothing has changed about [Austin's] desire to see every member of the armed forces get vaccinated" with what he noted are safe and effective vaccines that contribute to improved readiness.
Stitt communication director Carly Atchison said Oklahoma National Guard Adjutant General Mike Thompson had been consulted in the drafting of the letter.
A military official with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity because they were unauthorized to speak publicly told Public Radio Tulsa the state guard had not asked for the letter and the governor had acted on his own. The official said they had received "hundreds" of mandatory vaccines over the course of their military career without the opportunity to opt out of any of them without facing discharge.