A spokesperson for the Pentagon insisted on Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has the authority to overrule Oklahoma’s highest-ranking military official and force members of the state’s National Guard to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“It is a lawful order for National Guardsmen to receive the Covid vaccine. It is a lawful order,” Defense Department press secretary John Kirby stated, according to Politico.
“Refusing to do that, absent an approved exemption, puts them in the same potential [for disciplinary action] as active duty members who refuse the vaccine,” Kirby added.
In Sept., Austin issued a mandate for all uniformed service members to receive some form of COVID-19 vaccination, though deadlines varied by branch.
But last week, Thomas Mancino, the newly appointed commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, wrote in a memo, according to The Hill, that no member of the Oklahoma National Gaurd would be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Mancino writes, “no negative administrative or legal action will be taken” against guardsmen who refuse the vaccine.
Still, Kirby maintained that “the secretary of Defense has the authority to require these vaccines for all members of the force, including the National Guard … even in a Title 32 status. Because when they’re called up for their monthly training, they’re still federally funded.”
Under Title 32, governors can mobilize troops within their state, but that order is null because those troops are still federally funded under Title 10 of the U.S. Code.
Kirby went on to mention that the agency has no concern at this time of a possible “snowball” effect whereby other conservative states would step in and mark their refusal for vaccination.
“If there’s a snowball effect, we haven’t seen it yet,” Kirby stated. “If he feels like that’s a necessary thing to do, he certainly would. But it’s not something that he’s planning on doing right now.”