WASHINGTON, USA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that he is repealing the COVID-19 vaccination requirements for state employees.
The announcement aligns with the end of vaccination requirements for federal employees and the end of the federal public health emergency. Last week, the World Health Organization announced the end of the global health emergency.
The vaccine mandate for state employees was one of the last remaining COVID-19 era restrictions in the state. Washington ended its COVID-19 emergency order on Oct. 31, 2022, ending contract tracing, travel restrictions, vaccine requirements in public schools, and more. King County's vaccine requirements ended on Feb. 6, including requirements for county departments and officials.
On August 5, 2022, Inslee issued Directive 22-13.1, creating what he called a “permanent” condition of employment.
Directive 22-13.1 required new, current, and classified and management services employees, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exceptions were made for disability-related requests and sincere religious beliefs.
“Widespread vaccination is also the primary means we have as a state to protect our health care system,” Inslee wrote in the directive.
Wednesday’s announcement revokes Directive 22-13.1, aligning the state with national policy.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, the governor said, “Throughout this public health crisis, our state employee family demonstrated inspiring resilience and dedication.”
Inslee is still encouraging employees to stay up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations. Wednesday’s release emphasized that state employees should stay home when sick and wear a face mask if they had been exposed to the virus, as ways to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Since the mandate was enacted, the Office of Financial Management says over 2,100 workers lost their jobs as a result.
However, the Governor’s office and public health experts say the vaccine mandate was an effective tool during the pandemic.
“I think it’s clear in retrospect that many of the public health measures put in place were absolutely necessary and absolutely effective,” said Dr. John Vassall from Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine. “We would still be in a pandemic situation had they not been in place.”
Meanwhile, Lua Pritchard, executive director of the Asia-Pacific Cultural Center, says Inslee’s announcement isn’t going to stop her from hosting pop-up vaccine clinics and encouraging people in her community to get vaccinated, because this resource is needed.
“We never did it because it was required,” Pritchard said. “We did it because it’s something that we feel is important for our people, especially our people with cultural and language barriers. As long as we know the virus is out there, we want to play a part in helping to protect the people.”
Starting July 25, state employees who provide up-to-date proof of vaccination will receive a $1,000 incentive.
“Looking ahead, I am filled with hope and optimism for what the future holds in Washington state,” wrote Inslee. “We have the tools and tenacity we need to effectively respond and achieve meaningful and lasting recovery for the people of our great state.”
The rescinding of vaccination requirements for state employees goes into effect Thursday, May 11.