A vaccination requirement will protect seniors

Dear Resident,

As we all face down the possible emergence of a new COVID variant, we can be confident in our ability to manage through if we keep following best practices — including ventilation, masking in certain settings, testing, vaccinations, boosters. (Schedule your booster appointment here.)

Most people can be confident that they are protected once vaccinated. As the New York times reported, data from King County Washington shows that the risk of hospitalizations remains very, very low for younger age cohorts that are vaccinated. And soon we will have anti-viral pills in addition to monoclonal antibodies.

Hospitalization Data from King County Washington showing higher risk for older age groups

For seniors, however, and those with higher medical risks, there continues to be some elevated risk even after being vaccinated. That is why we must stamp out transmission, so that we can all — including our seniors — return to normalcy.

Our vaccination rate is very high, and as the Washington Post detailed, our death rate is relatively low. But there are still many unvaccinated people. And the pandemic continues to burn.

One way that we can increase our vaccination levels is through employer requirements. I continue to believe that we must require County employees to get vaccinated, with necessary medical and religious exemptions. Unfortunately the legislation several of us have proposed to do just that is facing resistance from the leadership of the employee unions (though not in the schools) and the County Executive.

The CDC has shown that unvaccinated people are five times more likely to get COVID and 30 times more likely to be hospitalized.

I do not believe that employees should be able to put their co-workers (and the co-workers’ older or vulnerable family members) at risk by refusing to get vaccinated. As an employer, I believe we should side with those in our ranks who are willing to keep themselves and those around them safe.

There are more reasons to support the requirement. Employees who have not been vaccinated are highly likely to eventually get COVID. Some will have more serious health problems when they do. They might say that is their choice, but the County government will have to deal with workforce disruptions as well as pay the considerable costs of health treatment. All employees must also bear this cost through premiums.

There is a simple way to minimize these problems—requiring vaccinations, just as employers across the country are moving to do.

As I observed during a recent Council committee session, today we have over 200 County employees who are quarantined from COVID.

Mandatory vaccinations could actually reduce workforce disruptions since workers who are vaccinated are less likely to get COVID and if they do get COVID are unlikely to have serious health impacts.

And as Joe Biden’s federal workforce mandate shows, a requirement policy is highly effective at raising vaccination rates. That’s why this is so important.

While most of us are safe once vaccinated, for a true return to normalcy, particularly for our seniors, we have to drive transmission down to low levels. Simply put, employer vaccination requirements are a critical tool for us to fight this pandemic, and it is time for the County government to show leadership on this issue.