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Washington Gov. Inslee tells state employees and private sector health care workers to get vaccinated or they will be let go

Governor Jay Inslee at a press conference at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle announcing a COVID-19 vaccination would be a requirement for state employment (August 9, 2021). Photo: Office of the Governor
Governor Jay Inslee at a press conference at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle announcing a COVID-19 vaccination would be a requirement for state employment (August 9, 2021). Photo: Office of the Governor

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced at a press conference yesterday, August 9th, he was issuing a proclamation requiring all state employees, whether or not they work from home, be vaccinated for COVID-19 by October 18th or face dismissal. This includes most contractors, volunteers and other positions that have any onsite presence.

Citing powers granted to the Governor by the state of emergency declared on February 29, 2020, and broad emergency authority granted under RCW 43.06, this mandate is to also include workers in private health care and long-term care settings. Those employers are to require COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment as of October 18th as well. These would include hospitals, nursing homes, adult family homes, assisted living facilities and other treatment facilities.

Individuals with “legitimate medical reasons” or “sincerely held religious reasons” may be granted exemptions. Such exemptions do not include personal or philosophical objections according to a press release issued yesterday from the governor’s office.

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries and Department of Health have published requirements and guidance for establishing processes for establishing proof of vaccination that employers are being required to adhere to. Private employers may develop processes as long as they meet these requirements and guidance.

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According to the Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery 2021 Phased reopening of Washington state agencies (Version 11), acceptable types of verification of vaccination status include the following.

  • Proof of vaccination, such as a CDC vaccination card (or a printed or electronically stored photo of the card), OR
  • Documentation of vaccination from a health care provider or state immunization information system record

The governor also encouraged higher education, local governments, the legislative branch, other statewide elected officials and organizations in the private sector to make COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment but did not mandate it as was done with the health care and long-term care providers.

The Washington State Wire quoted state politicians representing differing views in a story about the announcement.

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.

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Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D) and House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D)

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.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun (R)

The Governor’s office said, “The state will establish additional resources as needed to help employees and employers move into compliance with this directive.”

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