King County’s vaccine requirement for patrons of restaurants, movie theaters and gyms is an important step in the right direction toward stemming the COVID-19 pandemic. More counties should ignore the noxious politicization of vaccines and get on board with this sensible public health measure.
Because months of cajoling, cash giveaways and employer mandates haven’t closed the deal for so many to get lifesaving, community-protecting shots, it’s time to step up the pressure. King County’s mandate takes effect Oct. 25, providing a reasonable month-plus of notice. Similar requirements are already in place in Clallam and Jefferson counties on the Olympic Peninsula. Those counties’ shared health officer has been targeted by spiteful protests because of it. The time for such tantrums is long past.
In Washington, D.C., the National Mall is covered with 670,000 memorial flags to memorialize the horrifying number of American deaths from this pandemic. More than 7,200 of them represent dead Washingtonians. Many of the Northwest’s hospitals are at or near capacity due to serious COVID-19 cases, the kind that vaccinations are proven to inhibit. Yet even with vaccines free and readily available to everyone age 12 and up, the state Department of Health reports that 24.9% of the eligible population hasn’t even gotten a single shot.
That’s 1.6 million Washington residents, an overabundance of potential hosts for the virus to circulate among, even without adding in the under-12 population.
According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the new proof-of-vaccination requirement could prevent up to 75,900 new infections in King County. That’s out of a forecast surge of up to 300,000 infections within the next six months, county health officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin said. Because vaccinations hold down the spread and seriousness of COVID-19 infections, they are an urgent community priority to keep hospitals and businesses functioning.
King County is right to follow the peninsula counties into this phase of fighting the pandemic. Health officials within state government and other counties must explore broadening the vaccination requirement to give Washington consistent strong, community-protecting rules. The state’s other metropolitan counties have a responsibility to step up immediately and help vaccines become the path back to normalcy.