Vaccine mandates will save lives

Gov. Jay Inslee showed important leadership by mandating COVID-19 vaccines for most state employees and hundreds of thousands of health care workers. Other agencies, governments, and private businesses should follow suit and require vaccines.

This is a needed next step to bring the Delta variant under control and finally return to normalcy.

For most employees, wide adoption of a vaccine mandate to be able to work alongside others means only having to produce their COVID-19 vaccination record card.

For the holdouts, we — as a community — have reached a tipping point.

After all the educational efforts and lotteries, giveaways and gimmicks, it is time now to get back to work and school in full, and put this disaster of human suffering and economic hardship behind us. Time for government, businesses and others that have places where people gather to set the standard of requiring vaccines.

In King County, more than 80% of vaccine-eligible residents have received one dose, and more than 75% are fully vaccinated.

This good news is overshadowed by grim reports from hospital emergency departments as beds fill with those who eschewed vaccinations, putting themselves and the community at risk.

“Our health care system is under immense strain as the delta variant is now at least 85% of cases. Our rise in cases is largely due to people not getting vaccinated,” said Dr. Umair Shah, secretary of the state Department of Health at an Aug. 9 press event.

This is unacceptable. Patience with the procrastinators, skeptics, and those with a twisted definition of personal freedom has run out.

Children under 12 are the only age demographic unable to receive the vaccine, and they are increasingly the ones getting sick. That adds greater urgency to tackling this unpredictable and ever-evolving virus.

The response to the governor’s measure highlights just how far we’ve come in recent months. Small protests notwithstanding, many affected health care providers expressed their immediate support.

State Superintendent of Public Schools Chris Reykdal urged Islee to expand the mandate for all public school employees, and Washington’s teachers union leaders indicated that they, too, are on board if it will help control the pandemic.

Legal precedent is clear. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces laws protecting employees from discrimination, has long recognized an employer’s right to insist on vaccinations as a condition of employment, with limited exceptions, such as medical conditions and sincerely held religious beliefs.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memo clarifying that mandates are allowed even for vaccines that have not yet been fully approved by the FDA.

This pokes a giant hole in Washington State University’s announcement on Friday that it will enforce a mandate once the FDA grants full approval for COVID-19 vaccines.

WSU needs to make it clear that everyone — including and especially its $3.2- million-per-year football coach Nick Rolovich — needs to be inoculated, as soon as possible. Rolovich’s reticence is an embarrassment to the university and could put his staff and players at risk.

This is not government or corporate overreach into the lives of employees.

Concurrent with the governor’s announcement, the city of Seattle and King County made vaccines mandatory for their employees. Businesses large and small also have already made vaccines mandatory, including Microsoft, which has been ahead of the curve since the pandemic upended everything in March of 2020.

It was one of the first major employers to institute remote work, and earlier this month it required its employees, vendors and guests to be vaccinated at all its locations in the U.S.

The Seattle Times Company has not mandated vaccines for its employees so far, but company officials are considering this requirement to return to work.

Many unions have insisted that this intensely personal but needed disease response should be formally negotiated within existing contracts. This should not present a stumbling block.

For example, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, which represents 30,000 nurses and other medical professionals statewide, agrees that vaccines are safe, effective and needed, but that time off should be awarded for shots, and exemptions made for medical or religious reasons. Also, vaccines should not replace other prevention measures such as ventilation and appropriate personal protective equipment.

A pandemic is by definition global, and many right-thinking cities and countries around the world are taking similar actions. Everyone in Indonesia must be vaccinated, or face penalties. You can’t enter a cafe in Paris nor soon visit a nightclub in London without proof of vaccination. Same for San Francisco.

We must now take the lead, and get over this long-awaited finish line.

No one likes being told what do. But with so much as stake — lives, commerce, mental well-being — mandating vaccines for public health and safety makes sense.