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Inslee announces vaccine mandate for state, health care workers

Gov. Jay Inslee announced today that most state workers and on-site contractors and volunteers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to remain employed.

The announcement also mandates that state employees and workers in private health care and long-term care settings will have until Oct. 18 to be fully vaccinated. It applies to state workers, whether or not they’re working from home. It also applies to executive cabinet agencies, but Inslee encouraged everyone else, including those working in higher education, local governments, the legislative branch and other statewide elected officials and originations in the private sector to do the same, a press release from the Governor’s office said.

The announcement was made at a press conference on Aug. 9 at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle. Kaiser Permanente Washington has stated that it will require all of its employees to be vaccinated. Seattle and King County both also announced vaccine requirements for employees.

“Getting vaccinated against COVID is a public good. We have come so close to defeating this deadly disease,” Inslee said in the press release. “We have the tool — the vaccine — to get this era behind us. It is safe, it is effective, and you will never regret getting it.”

The vaccination requirements include exemptions for people with legitimate medical or sincerely held religious reasons. The exemption do not include personal or philosophical objections, the press release states.

The move was praised by Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig and House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, both Democrats, who issued the following statement:

“Protecting the health and safety of people and communities in our state was a top priority of the legislature’s work this session, and the governor’s announcement today is an important step in stopping the spread of the virus and its variants. Vaccines are the best defense we have against COVID-19, and that’s why the Legislature put $1.2 billion into making sure people have access to vaccines, as well as contact tracing and testing efforts. State employees and health care providers serve the public. Being vaccinated with a safe, effective vaccine is a simple extension of that commitment. We applaud the governor’s actions to keep Washingtonians safe. As legislative leaders, we strongly encourage our members and staff to get vaccinated, and will be considering possible additional COVID safety steps within the legislative branch as we approach the next legislative session.”

However, House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox and Senate Republican Leader John Braun also released statements today which were more critical of the measures. They stated:

“Vaccinations can save lives and we have strongly encouraged people to get them. We have been vaccinated ourselves. But getting the vaccine is a personal health-care choice and should not be mandated by any level of government. Threatening to terminate someone’s job if they don’t comply with this requirement is heavy-handed and wrong. The governor should show humility, listen to those who have concerns about the vaccine, and look to provide other options – including incentives.

“Similar to past announcements, we learned of the governor’s decision from the media. Those impacted by his decision, and their state lawmakers, have again been prevented from having a role in this process. This is yet another example of why we need emergency powers reform. Other states have enacted limits on their executive branches, but Democrats in our state have been afraid to challenge Governor Inslee. Call a special session. Give the people a meaningful say in these decisions.”

King County leads the state in vaccinations, with approximately 81.5% of eligible residents 12 years of age and older having initiated their vaccination series, 12% higher than the statewide average as of August 2, the press release states. The announcement also comes as the U.S. and Washington state are experiencing a fifth wave of the pandemic, driven largely by the delta variant.

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