Yesterday’s frontline heroes could be tomorrow’s unemployed, thanks to Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate

A large number of state and private healthcare employees plan to rally Sat., Aug. 21 in Snoqualmie, Washington, at the capitol in Olympia, and outside PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver.

Jessica Wilkinson

Jessica Wilkinson
Jessica Wilkinson

A large portion of the state’s “frontline heroes” of 2020 are set to be the state’s unemployed of 2021, unless they give in to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s most recent threat of termination. On Aug. 9, Gov. Inslee issued Proclamation 21-14 in which he extended his emergency powers under RCW 43.06.220 to include a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all healthcare workers in the state. According to the proclamation, every healthcare worker is prohibited “from engaging in work for a State Agency after Oct. 18, if the worker has not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.” 

“I am unequivocally opposed to this mandate,” says Sen. Lynda Wilson of Washington’s 17th Legislative District. “Jay Inslee is the only governor in the country up to this point who is going to fire people if they refuse to bend to his will and inject a substance into their body which they object to. All other governors — Republican and Democrat — either don’t have a vaccine requirement, or if they do, they allow some other means of opting out, such as regular testing so people might keep their jobs. This is an extreme position, and I do not support it.” 

Wilson has joined her Republican colleagues in calling for a special session to reign in the governor’s emergency powers. 

A large number of state and private healthcare employees plan to rally Sat., Aug. 21, outside PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver. The rally is scheduled to begin at noon. File photo
A large number of state and private healthcare employees plan to rally Sat., Aug. 21, outside PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver. The rally is scheduled to begin at noon. File photo

A close reading of the governor’s powers in a state of emergency finds, “Any person willfully violating any provision of an order issued by the governor under this section is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.” 

Inslee’s proclamation largely rests on the July 6, 2021 legal opinion of the U.S. Department of Justice, which found a new interpretation for Section 564 of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) with regard to Emergency Use Authorizations. All COVID-19 vaccines currently fall under EUAs, which require “the option to accept or refuse administration of the product.” 

The nonprofit The Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) has already formally responded to the opinion by the DOJ, highlighting the presence of coercion in employment mandates such as Inslee’s.

“Section 564 requires that this be an actual choice, which is incompatible with levying serious adverse consequences if someone refuses an EUA product, such as expulsion from school, employment, or the armed forces.” ICAN reviewed long-standing U.S. code and international law that prohibits the coercion of any individual to accept an unlicensed, experimental medical product. According to their letter, the Executive Secretary of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has also specifically stated, in regard to the COVID-19 vaccines, “Under an EUA, vaccines are not allowed to be mandatory. “… Patients and individuals will have the right to refuse the vaccine.”

A group of city of Vancouver employees, as well as first responders throughout Clark County and across the state, are uniting in their resolve to resist Inslee’s coercion by threat of termination. A large number of state and private healthcare employees plan to rally Sat., Aug. 21 in Snoqualmie, Washington, at the capitol in Olympia, and outside PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver. Each rally is scheduled to start at noon Saturday.

City of Vancouver firefighter/paramedic of 15 years, Nate Cook, is part of Washington State Firefighters United, a group of firefighters that grew to over 400 members in just a few days. The group has united to stand for bodily autonomy and medical freedom. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we knew nothing about the severity of the virus and how it would impact us or our families,’’ Cook said. “We suited up for 18 months and continued to serve our communities, because we felt called to do it and because we love to do it. But the same public that trusted us to critically think and make decisions of risk and benefit for the last 18 months, is now encouraged to view us as their enemy. After Inslee’s order, I am no longer assessing a personal medical decision based on risk and benefit for my personal health. I am weighing the loss of employment, which I use to support three generations.”

Melissa Kolb, an employee of PeaceHealth for 29 years and a nurse for the last 25, could not agree more. “I was safe to work with patients for months and months throughout this pandemic and throughout my career, while utilizing proper PPE and procedures. Now, I can be deemed no longer safe to be in patient care areas because of a personal health decision. It is heartbreaking.” 

Kolb belongs to a group of 7,000 employees in the state opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine mandates. MDs, naturopaths, nurses and technicians are now linking arms with other state employees, officers, and EMTS, according to Kolb. “We now know that the vaccines do not give sterilizing immunity for current variants circulating in the public. So how can we be treated like second-class citizens and an inferior population because we have waited to accept these vaccines?” Kolb asked. “Some have even suggested hospitals target unvaccinated patients after unvaccinated employees, and prioritize healthcare accordingly. That kind of rhetoric is dangerous and discriminatory.”

Washington State Representative for the 17th District, Vicki Kraft, has stated, “I understand and recognize the rights of people — that their body is their own, and as such, they should always have the right to decide what they put into their body — or not.”

In an open letter to the citizens of Washington state on Aug. 4, Kraft joined eleven other state representatives in reaffirming a commitment to protect and defend the Constitutional rights provided to Washington citizens. “No person, no emergency order and no law have the authority to remove these Constitutional freedoms and rights from the people,” the letter read. 

Regarding the topic of exemptions for those who wish to decline the experimental vaccines, Cook asks, “Who will stand up for the healthy, atheist firefighter who objects to the vaccine, but does not qualify for a religious or medical exemption? Who will stand for the fully vaccinated employees who wish to decline booster shots that could be mandated in the future? Do they have a right to continue to weigh the risks and benefits for themselves and to make their own medical decisions?”

The city of Vancouver Fire Department has already issued a letter to personnel spelling out the timeline for compliance with the governor’s recent mandate, stating employees can choose resignation in lieu of termination by Oct. 18. 

City of Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle did not return a request for comment. 

When asked about her thoughts on the recent mandates, city of Vancouver Council Member Sarah Fox stated, “I have lost friends and family over this past year to this virus … Unfortunately, many healthcare personnel remain unvaccinated … Patients in hospitals that are there to be treated for other critical health care needs are being potentially exposed to COVID or other such preventable diseases. This is unconscionable. Of course, all healthcare workers should get vaccinated for their own health, to protect patients, their colleagues, families, and our city. This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all health care workers to do ‘no harm.’”

Healthcare workers were some of the first in the state to be offered the COVID-19 experimental vaccines, in December 2020, in light of their contact with COVID-19 patients. They were offered pay and time off work to receive the shots, and many did. Most estimates state that 53 percent of Washington residents are fully vaccinated and 67 percent of long-term healthcare employees.

Jessica Hofer Wilkinson is a freelance writer, home educator and mother of four and nursing home chaplain. She resides in Clark County.

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