After losing vaccine lawsuit, Oklahoma AG John O’Connor urges Biden to consider exemptions
(Tribune News Service) — A day after losing a lawsuit challenging a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all National Guard members, Oklahoma state leaders were mostly quiet on their next steps, except to urge the Biden administration to strongly consider any exemption requests it receives.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor and 16 unnamed members of the Air National Guard sued the Biden administration earlier this month over a vaccine mandate.
On Tuesday, Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot ruled against the state.
O'Connor said he was disappointed by the decision but urged the Biden administration to "review in good faith all exemptions and religious accommodations requested by our fellow Oklahomans," according to a Wednesday statement.
O'Connor also predicted the ruling would deplete the number of guardsmen.
"We will not be surprised if the President's vaccine mandate actually reduces the nation's military readiness instead of promoting it," O'Connor said.
Stitt's office said it had reviewed the judge's order but declined to comment any further.
The Oklahoma National Guard did not respond to The Oklahoman's request for comment, but in an interview with the Norman Transcript, Maj. Kristen Tschetter, public affairs officer with the Oklahoma National Guard, said they were in a "holding pattern" until the governor gives an order on next steps.
Earlier this month, Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Mancino, adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, told Guard members losing the lawsuit would likely mean a need to get the vaccine.
"Anyone exercising their personal responsibility and deciding not to take the vaccine must realize that the potential for career-ending federal action, barring a favorable court ruling, legislative intervention, or a change in policy is present," Mancino wrote in his letter to Guard members.
Unless an Air National Guard member is granted a medical, religious or administrative exemption, members not vaccinated by Dec. 31 will not be able to participate in drills, training, or other duties, according to guidance issued by the Air Force.
In his ruling, Judge Friot recommended that the Biden administration give Guard members more time to comply with the vaccine requirement because of the lawsuit.
This story is provided in part through a grant by the Kirkpatrick Foundation.
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