New COVID-19 messaging from governor is needed; old script is dangerous, booster case numbers concerning

May 11, 2022

Vaccine hesitancy has been continuously shamed by Gov. Jay Inslee and was again Saturday in an interview on Crosscut. People who don’t get vaccinated or boosted, according to the governor, are making an irresponsible choice, holding the rest of us back and — wait for it — listening to Donald Trump. Alternately, getting vaccinated and boosted keeps you and others safe, the governor’s tale goes.

That’s the justification, after all, for his discriminatory vaccine mandate on state employees, educators, first responders and other health care workers — a mandate he says is not going away, even though we know people contract and spread COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status.

When will it go away? “It’s not today. We'll make that decision when it makes sense."

I’m not sure it will ever make sense to this governor. He is proud of the punitive mandate, claiming the requirement that certain employees be vaccinated is responsible for fewer deaths in Washington state. That’s despite the fact that the vast majority of people dying from or with COVID-19 are people outside of working ages. It also ignores state comparative data showing that the four states beating us when it comes to the lowest cumulative death rates per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not have vaccine mandates on government employees (Alaska and Utah) or had them but allowed for testing alternatives (Hawaii and Vermont). Read more about that here.

When pressed for proof that the vaccine mandate on employment gets credit for better health outcomes, the governor couldn’t offer it. Instead, he compared us with Mississippi, the state with the highest death rate, and insisted that his decisions have saved 19,000 lives.

When asked why there was no COVID-19 vaccine mandate for school kids, Inslee explained that the State Board of Health recently decided against one. He said that while the board was in clear support of vaccination, there was worry many kids would leave the public schools if there was a mandate. (See my prior blog on that decision.) Inslee said he won't order a vaccine mandate in schools and added that many kids aren’t vaccinated "because parents have been listening to Donald Trump too much."

That's just silly. First, far from being opposed to the vaccines he claims to have created, Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated vaccination, even if he disapproves of school mandates. People who are vaccine-hesitant are unlikely to be taking advice from the man who brought us Operation Warp Speed.

Parents aren’t stupid or easily influenced. And just last week, hesitancy was given more street cred when the FDA imposed new restrictions on Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, reasoning that the risk of developing a rare but life-threatening blood clot syndrome from the shot outweighed the benefits of the vaccine for people over 18 who have access to other COVID-19 vaccines.

Both the vaccines and COVID-19 present risks: Patient-centered health care should be prioritized as Washingtonians make their decisions, rather than employment mandates that are only successful in forcing some workers to do something they don’t want to do. A patient-centered message, rather than ostracization, might also have a better shot at increasing the state’s already high vaccination rate.

Parents are doing their research and talking to sources willing to have discussions about the vaccines’ strengths and limitations.

Concerning numbers from King County tell me that a new message and more discussion about vaccine strengths and weaknesses are needed. The numbers suggest that if you’re in the 12 to 29 age groups, you’re more likely to have contracted COVID-19 in the past 30 days than if you have received only the first two doses or are not fully vaccinated. Note that this trend does not hold among older age groups. In them, COVID-19 contraction is far more likely among not-fully-vaccinated people.

That doesn’t necessarily mean boosters are useless, of course. It could mean vaccinated and boosted people in younger age groups test more. The numbers could be showing that vaccinated and boosted members in this age group are moving about the state and in groups more freely — not worried about harm from COVID-19. That also would mean that vaccinated and boosted people could be just as much or more of a concern for spreading COVID-19 in our communities.  Yet, the remaining restrictions are still almost entirely for the unvaccinated.

Parents, the number one advocates for their children, are weighing all this information, many choosing not to be pressured by a government and a society that have made unvaccinated citizens outcasts.

Messaging from the governor suggesting vaccination controls spread is not only wrong but reckless. It’s adding to some people feeling COVID-19 invincible when they shouldn’t, while pitting people against one another unnecessarily. We contract and spread COVID-19 because we gather and are social beings, not because we are vaccinated or unvaccinated.

While vaccines appear to help with hospitalization and death, it’s time for the rest of the story and the inclusion of numbers that do not fit neatly into a desired script.

Penalizing workers for not vaccinating is so spring of 2021. We know much more now, and hospitalizations and deaths are down. They were considered low enough to lift a state mask mandate, after all.

So when will the discriminatory vaccine mandate end? “When it makes sense … which is not at the moment,” Inslee said Saturday. Service levels and workers’ economic security will continue to suffer.

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