Opinion: Help, State Board of Health – Influence an end to Gov. Inslee’s harmful vaccine mandate on state employment

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center says the governor is confident his strict COVID-19-related mandates have been responsible for saving lives, but data do not back up these claims.

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center says the governor is confident his strict COVID-19-related mandates have been responsible for saving lives, but data do not back up these claims

Elizabeth Hovde
Washington Policy Center

Oregon announced it was getting rid of its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on more than 400,000 state employees in March of 2022 — more than a year ago. Then-Gov. Kate Brown explained she was rescinding an “extraordinary emergency” that was no longer necessary.  

Elizabeth Hovde
Elizabeth Hovde

King County and the City of Seattle no longer require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, either. King County Executive Dow Constantine said in an announcement,  “With high vaccination rates and effective, updated boosters available, we are in a different place in the pandemic, and our policies and regulations will change to reflect the best information we have available today, as they have throughout the last three years.” He said that in February.

Gov. Jay Inslee must have emerged from a burrow and seen his shadow, as he is allowing the state’s vaccine-mandate winter to carry on. In fact, he never wants it to end. He directed the Office of Financial Management to craft rules for a permanent COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The rules have been written — effective Nov. 4 — and a  COVID vaccine is now a requirement for taxpayer-funded employment in state executive and small cabinet agencies.  

The mandate is foolish, unfair and not based on science. Unvaccinated and vaccinated people contract, are hospitalized and die with COVID.

Minus legislative progress on ending the mandate — and seeing the governor double, triple and quadruple down on the thing — I’ve implored the State Board of Health to use its influence to redirect the misguided, outdated policy. Here are my public comments to the board today for its April 12 meeting:

“Thanks for your time today, Chair Grellner and board members. I’m Elizabeth Hovde with the Washington Policy Center.

I am here to ask for your intervention and influence on the governor’s permanent vaccine mandate as a condition for employment.

The governor directed the Office of Financial Management to write rules that are now in place for a permanent vaccine mandate for state employees in executive and small cabinet agencies. The governor has also included the mandate, along with bonuses for voluntarily chosen boosters, in contract negotiations with labor. The two policies together send a confusing health message that is not based on science. 

COVID-19 mask and emergency orders have ended or are winding down; the CDC removed its policy distinctions between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated months ago; we know that those most in health danger from COVID are the elderly, not working-age people; and we know that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can spread and contract COVID-19. 

A vaccinated state worker who is still employed by the state can contract and spread and get sick from COVID-19, while an unvaccinated worker might not. 

It’s past time for the state to stop punishing and limiting the working options of the COVID-unvaccinated, and I hope you can help. Vaccines appear to help some with hospitalization and death, but a vaccine mandate on working-age people does not. Further, there are other health behaviors that impact workers in our state workforce, but those behaviors don’t get them fired.

The mandate has caused state staffing problems for no demonstrable public health benefit. More than 2,000 state workers’ careers ended because of the vaccine mandate. Instead of following the science, a permanent vaccine mandate will exclude potential new hires, too. 

Last I checked, the Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard reports that 30 percent of the state’s total population has not completed a COVID-19 primary series. Excluding a good percentage of the state’s total population from being considered for these state jobs is more than problematic. It is indefensible, given all we now know about COVID-19 and the vaccines’ strengths and limitations. It is indefensible when we know that COVID-19 is most injurious and deadly to people in elderly, not working-age, populations.

This policy is harmful to individuals, the state workforce and taxpayer-funded and -expected services.

A study published in The Lancet finds that the immunity generated from a COVID-19 infection was found to be “at least as high, if not higher” than that provided by two doses of an mRNA vaccine. We’ve known natural immunity plays a role all along in this mandate, yet the governor’s vaccine mandate for state workers does not recognize the value of natural immunity. 

The governor is confident his strict COVID-19-related mandates have been responsible for saving lives, but data do not back up these claims. 

A comparative look at states shows that some states that did not have vaccine mandates on government employees, or had them but allowed for testing alternatives, have beat Washington when it comes to COVID outcomes. There are many factors in play for good COVID outcomes, including the relative health and age of a state. With so many factors involved, the governor’s bragging is off-target. 

Please help end the state’s misguided vaccine mandate on state employees. I am happy to answer any questions or provide you with state-comparative research. 

Thank you for your work.”

Elizabeth Hovde is a policy analyst and director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center. She is a Clark County resident.

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