The newly appointed commander of the Oklahoma National Guard is defying a COVID-19 vaccine mandate from the Pentagon

By Yelena Dzhanova

The leader of the Oklahoma National Guard has released a memo that says no service member will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

The move, ordered by Adjutant General Thomas Mancino, directly goes against a federal mandate saying otherwise. 

There will be "no negative administrative or legal action" taken against members who opt out of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the memo sent last week, obtained by the Oklahoman.

The Pentagon in August announced a vaccination mandate for all US service members, right on the heels of an order from President Joe Biden saying all federal employees must get fully vaccinated. The Pentagon mandate has staggered deadlines for different branches of the military to get fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Vaccinations deadlines are looming, but large portions of the military still remain unvaccinated. In October, hundreds of thousands of service members were either unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated against the virus.

The mandate from the Department of Defense has been met with backlash.

A top Republican lawmaker, for example, criticized the mandate, calling it a "haphazardly implemented and politically motivated" order. 

"At a time when our adversaries continue to increase their quantitative and qualitative advantage against our forces, we should seek to ensure that no policy, even unintentionally, hinders military readiness," Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Inhofe said the mandate should be immediately suspended to avoid causing "irrevocable damage to our national security."

Health officials for months have said vaccines are highly effective at reducing the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. As of August, unvaccinated people had a six-fold higher chance of testing positive and an 11-fold greater chance of dying from the disease than vaccinated people.

In response to the backlash, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby called the vaccine mandate a lawful order, adding that failure to comply could lead to disciplinary action, including separation from military service. 

Insider's Ryan Pickrell contributed to this report.