Washington state is now requiring that all teachers and school staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment—marking the strictest school vaccine mandate in the United States.
Gov. Jay Inslee made the announcement at a press briefing on Wednesday, citing health concerns over variants of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
The measure, which extends to school bus drivers and volunteers in the public and private sectors, states that all K-12 and higher education employees have to be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or they risk losing their jobs, the Democrat governor said.
“I’m convinced we are at this point in this pandemic that without these vaccine requirements we will continue to be susceptible to new variants,” Inslee said, noting that 95 percent of CCP virus patients hospitalized in the state were unvaccinated.
The governor said that the state is “well past the point” where testing is enough to keep people safe, adding, “We’ve tried it. It has not been adequate for the task at hand.”
Inslee also emphasized that children under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
“When you decide to get a vaccine, you’re protecting a kid out there who can’t get it,” he said. “This virus is increasingly impacting young people, and those under the age of 12 still can’t get the vaccine for themselves.”
He added, “We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators, and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve.”
Just over a week earlier, Inslee announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for most government and health care workers, private health care, and long-term care employees.
Those whom the mandate applies to will be required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 by the same date, Oct. 18, as a condition of employment.
Unlike other state leaders who have rolled out similar mandates, Inslee has not made regular testing an option for those who do not want to be vaccinated. The only way to opt out of the mandate is with a medical or religious exemption.
In announcing the mandate on Aug. 9, Inslee cited a surge in cases and hospitalizations in the state linked to the highly infectious Delta COVID-19 variant.
“We have what is essentially a new virus at our throats,” he said last week. “The state of Washington is taking decisive action.”
The requirement applies to executive cabinet agencies, which are supported by roughly 60,000 employees across 24 state agencies. Any contractor wanting to do work with the state will also be required to be vaccinated.
Separately on Wednesday, Inslee said that he’s expanding a statewide mask mandate for indoor public spaces to include vaccinated individuals, effective Aug. 23.