As Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccination mandate deadline rapidly approaches for teachers, health care workers, and public sector employees, vaccination rates among the mandated employees are already nearing Inslee’s expectations for Oct. 18.
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A report released by the Office of Financial Management on Monday showed that just over 68% of Washington workers had received both doses of the vaccine, representing a 20% increase from vaccination numbers reported earlier this month.
Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee expressed to the Seattle Times the office’s feelings of encouragement regarding this new data, stating:
“Agencies and their HR departments have been working hard to communicate with their employees. We believe that the numbers will continue to go up, and know that as the deadline approaches more and more employees will make the decision to protect their health and the health of those around them.”
The promising data comes amidst a fifth surge of COVID-19 infections that has been overwhelming hospitals across the state, with 175 new hospitalizations bringing the state’s total to 36,388, and statewide COVID-19 ICU occupancy to 31.1% as of Sep. 27. Data from the Department of Health (DOH) now shows that 1.2% of all people diagnosed with COVID-19 in Washington have died.
The mandates, originally put in place by Inslee in August, have generated controversy from some of the more than 800,000 workers to which it applies. Several thousand opposers of the mandates have sought out religious or medical exemptions, and various state agencies have granted nearly 800 exemptions to state workers.
On Monday, a hearing was held in a lawsuit by hundreds of employees opposed to the vaccine mandate, with the Walla Walla County Superior Court judge ultimately granting Inslee’s request to move the case to Thurston County. The lawsuit is yet another effort by organizations to challenge the legality of Inslee’s mandates, but no previous efforts have proven successful so far.
Lee responded to the lawsuit last week on behalf of Inslee’s office, stating:
“We hope that public servants and those who have made their careers around protecting the health and safety of the public will choose to do the right thing and get vaccinated. As for the lawsuit, we are confident that the governor’s proclamations are legally sound.”