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Healthcare workers statewide face vaccination requirement for employment

Healthcare workers across Washington state will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Gov. Inslee made the announcement on Monday, as well as announcing that most state workers, and on-site contractors and volunteers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.

State employees and workers in private health care and long-term care settings will have until October 18 to be fully vaccinated.

That requirement applies to both state-run and private healthcare facilities.

In a statement to KXRO, the Washington State Nurses Association, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, and UFCW 21, which cover both Harbor Regional Health and Summit Pacific Medical Center workers, stated:

“As unions representing nurses and health care workers in Washington state, the Washington State Nurses Association, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and UFCW21 support science-based public health directives on COVID-19 vaccination requirements for frontline health care workers, with medical and religious exemptions. We stand firmly behind vaccination as the best way to save the lives of patients, family members and members of our communities.”

The unions added that “At the same time, we fully expect employers to bargain with us over this change to working conditions.”

The requirement for state workers is in place, regardless of teleworking status. This applies to executive cabinet agencies, but the governor encouraged all others such as higher education, local governments, the legislative branch, other statewide elected officials and organizations in the private sector to do the same.

“It is the mission of public servants and those providing health care to serve our fellow Washingtonians. These workers live in every community in our state, working together and with the public every day to deliver services,” Inslee said. “We have a duty to protect them from the virus, they have the right to be protected, and the communities they serve and live in deserve protection as well.”

The governor made the announcement at a press conference on Monday at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle. He was joined by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Kaiser Permanente Washington President Susan Mullaney, Washington State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah, and Seattle-King County Public Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin.

“State employees, health care and long-term care workers are extremely pivotal in the fight against COVID-19, and we hope these steps will further our goal of getting as many people vaccinated,” Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, said. “We should all be concerned with the increases of COVID-19 cases in our state and we know that vaccines are our best tool to end this pandemic.”

The announcement comes as Washington officials say the state is experiencing a severe increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations in every county, due to the Delta variant, with the overwhelming majority of cases and hospitalizations being among unvaccinated Washingtonians.

19th District State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, issued the following statement on both mandates:

“The policies announced in today’s press conference are an outrageous misuse of the emergency powers the people of Washington grant their governor.”

He added, “The current governor, and everyone in this state, should expect widespread resistance to these latest constitutionally dubious edicts. The free people of Washington have had enough. Some are leaving. But many are staying and are just beginning to find their voices.”

Prior to the governor’s announcement, Kaiser Permanente WA mandated that it would be requiring all its employees to be vaccinated.

“The growing threat of the Delta variant has put our unvaccinated communities in a serious and precarious situation. We have at our disposal the key to ending this deadly surge and even the pandemic — vaccines,” said Susan Mullaney, president of Kaiser Permanente Washington. “As the largest integrated health care provider in the state of Washington, Kaiser Permanente has taken the important step of requiring that all employees and physicians be fully vaccinated. We look forward to working with the governor, the state, labor partners and our fellow health care systems to protect our state.”

The new requirement does include “well-defined exemptions” to the vaccine. Individuals with legitimate medical reasons or sincerely held religious reasons will be exempt. The exemptions do not include personal or philosophical objections.

There will be no test-out option for employees along with the latest rules.

Inslee said that “Past opt-out testing policies in congregate facilities for unvaccinated staff have not been efficient at preventing outbreaks that impact employees, clients and families, resulting in the loss of life of dedicated staff. Providing a test-out option would be both a financial burden for staff and taxpayers and ineffective at protecting the lives of Washingtonians.”

Employees who refuse to be vaccinated will be subject to dismissal from employment for failing to meet legal job qualifications.

The state will work with labor organizations on meeting collective bargaining obligations and adhering to civil service rules.

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