Federal vaccine mandate on employees is ending; Washington state's remains


The Biden administration is ending the COVID-19 vaccine rules for health care facilities receiving Medicaid and Medicare. It will also end a vaccine mandate for federal employees, contractors and international air travelers. A White House press release explains “we are now in a different phase of our response when these measures are no longer necessary.”

That’s what Kate Brown, then-Oregon governor, said more than a year ago. King County and Seattle no longer require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, either. Those jurisdictions ended their vaccine mandates in February

Tuesday morning, I asked members of Gov. Jay Inslee’s communications team if he still plans to hold onto this workplace limitation. I haven’t received an answer yet. 

As I wrote the Inslee team, this news isn’t necessarily a reason for the governor to change course. And, after all, he’s had better reasons than to follow the president’s lead all along. 

The fact that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people contract and spread COVID-19 has never been enough for Inslee, nor has the fact that elderly people, not working-age adults, are most at risk of the virus and the ones who usually require medical resources. A state workforce shortage also hasn’t been compelling enough of a reason to reconsider the mandate. 

Still, I’m crossing my fingers that Jay will want to be like Joe — or that he’ll take the opportunity to say, “Now that the federal government is ending vaccine mandates on employment, it’s time to end ours.” He could include paragraphs of self-congratulations for saving lives and increasing the vaccination rate in Washington state, per usual. 

More than 2,000 state workers’ careers ended because of the vaccine mandate. Many weighed risks and benefits and decided not to get vaccinated before the October 2021 deadline. Instead of following the science and numbers, a permanent vaccine mandate now excludes potential new hires, too, hurting the state’s workforce further.

Suggesting that continuing the mandate is not about health, state masking requirements for Washington’s health care, long-term care and correctional facilities ended last month. Meanwhile, Jaime Smith, executive director of communications for the governor, told me, “There is no current discussion about changes to employee vaccination policies.” 

The governor’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for remaining and future employees of small cabinet and executive agencies is misguided, discriminatory and outdated. And it's looking more and more like the sore thumb it is every month.

Back to the feds: A date for implementing the reversal of the requirement on health care facilities was not given in the White House press release. It says details are coming soon. Vaccine requirements for federal employees, contractors and international air travelers, however, end on May 11, the same day that the COVID-19 public health emergency expires.

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