Which way forward? It should include the governor ending his vaccine mandate, letting fired employees return to work


State officials report that 2,135 employees received pink slips or felt forced to quit due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Other reports show the state’s health care system lost about 3,000 hospital workers because of the mandate, and some of the state's first responders and health care providers weren’t trusted to stay on the job. As a result, public and health care services have suffered, careers have been ruined and working families have lost income. 

All this suffering is in spite of the fact that a strict vaccine mandate does not stop the spread of COVID-19, nor does it account for the science of natural immunity in people who have recovered from the virus. 

The governor’s reasoning behind the policy was to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community and create safer workplaces​​. That didn’t happen. Our research shows vaccine mandates cannot take credit for lower COVID-19 death rates. States with harsh mandates and mandate-free states had similar public health outcomes. Some non-mandate states had better cumulative death rates than Washington. 

It is hard to justify a policy that takes away a person’s livelihood but does not stop the contraction or spread of a disease. And one can argue the policy actually hurt workplaces, with the COVID-19 vaccination requirement pitting workers against each other and leaving the vaccinated to work through staffing shortages.

COVID-19 vaccines are breakthroughs that appear to limit serious illness and death, with, as of yet, a small number of known side effects. The vaccines have not been able to stop the virus’ spread, however. Everyone knows people who have contracted COVID-19 even though they are vaccinated. Numbers show hospitalizations and deaths among both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Given these facts, a health policy based on public information and choice would be far more effective than threats and punishments. Some people are against vaccines primarily because a government they don’t trust is pushing them. Adding to people’s mistrust, confusion and stress, the governor’s office is failing to provide information to — or even acknowledge questions from — the public about how long the vaccine mandate will continue or why it remains, given all we know.

I’m hopeful for some more answers Saturday. A virtual event for the Crosscut Festival, called, “Which Way Forward,” is on the governor’s schedule for the week. It has been described as a discussion about the “next phase of a new normal,” between Inslee and Bill Radke of National Public Radio member station KUOW. The pitch for the 10 a.m. discussion from Crosscut says, “Washington state appears ready to move on to the next phase of a new normal, but the pandemic has left in its wake a state with a myriad of challenges. We ask the governor which way he thinks we should be headed.” 

A new normal cannot continue to include a harmful mandate that has provided little or no broad public health benefit.

With COVID-19 past the crisis point, the governor should reconsider his policy, send “we know more now” apology letters, and let dedicated state employees, first responders and health care workers return to their jobs.

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