Employees will no longer need the COVID-19 vaccine to work for state agencies in Washington after Gov. Jay Inslee last week rescinded the previous directive requiring the vaccination series during the pandemic.
The move, which went into effect on Thursday, May 11, occurred as the federal government ended the public health emergency and lifted federal employees’ vaccination requirements. The World Health Organization also lifted its global health emergency declaration for COVID-19.
“For more than three years, we have all faced incredible challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted every aspect of our lives,” Inslee stated in a news release. “Throughout this public health crisis, our state employee family demonstrated inspiring resilience and dedication, and I thank our employees for their exemplary service under unprecedented circumstances. We have risen to the occasion during a defining moment in our history, and the measures we took helped us to achieve one of the lowest death rates in the nation.”
Washington state had the first case of COVID-19 in the country, which caused a pandemic that gripped the world. Over 1,162,000 Americans died from the virus and over 106 million cases have been recorded within the country since March 2020.
State agencies will amend the requirement by changing collective bargaining agreements with labor organizations.
While lifting the order, Inslee, in his public statement, said “work remains to limit the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risks of serious illness and death.”
Over 14,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States in the past week, along with 124 deaths.
Inslee said he will soon sign the state budget, which would provide $1,000 to state employees for proof of current vaccination.
Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, and House Republican Leader Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, released a statement after Inslee’s announcement.
“Just as Governor Inslee was slow to end his COVID state of emergency, he’s been equally behind the times in ending this discriminatory vaccination mandate. Republican legislative leaders called on the governor to take this step more than 14 months ago,” the leaders said. “It’s as though he finally made the connection between his vaccine requirement and the great difficulty our state agencies are having with filling vacancies. This mandate went too far from the start. It cost many state employees their careers and livelihoods. Republicans warned there could be problems and recommended a more pragmatic approach. The governor went ahead anyway with one of the most extreme policies in the nation.”
The leaders argued the policy had resulted in staffing shortages, especially at the Washington State Ferries and the Washington State Patrol. Braun and Stokesbary claimed around 1,900 state employees were either terminated or left their jobs because of the policy, with over 1,550 state positions currently open.
“If any of these experienced former public servants are still willing to return to state government, after Governor Inslee showed them the door, they should receive priority when applying and should receive pension service credit for the months when they were barred from their prior employment,” the leaders said.
Braun and Stokesbary also claimed the rescinding of the vaccine requirement “calls into question” Inslee’s decision to offer $1,000 vaccine-booster incentive payments for state employees.
“Those could cost taxpayers $50 million — money that would be better put toward something like helping K-12 students recover from the pandemic-related learning loss so many have suffered,” Braun and Stokesbary said. “It’s fiscally irresponsible and shows how misguided his priorities are.”