The vaccine nudge has become the vaccine shove.

Gov. Jay Inslee has announced a sweeping mandate for all Washington state employees, contractors and most health care and long-term care workers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

Seattle and King County announced similar mandates for city and county employees at a joint news conference Monday with state officials.

The mandates comes as Washington is experiencing a severe increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations due to the delta variant, with the overwhelming majority of cases and hospitalizations among unvaccinated residents.

Gov. Jay Inslee announces COVID vaccine mandate for Washington state employees, health care workers

“We have to recognize the reality we have essentially what is a new virus at our throats,” Inslee said Monday. “Therefore, today, the state of Washington is taking decisive action against this COVID disease. We do so to protect our vulnerable communities, to prevent further calamity to our state and to once again be on the path to full recovery for the state of Washington.”

Here’s what to know about the state’s vaccine mandate so far.


Who does this affect?

According to Inslee’s office, the proclamation affects any employees working for state agencies, state contractors and health care workers both in the private sector and long-term care settings. That includes nursing homes, adult family homes, assisted living and residential-treatment facilities.

State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah estimated more than 60,000 state government employees and about 400,000 license health care providers in the state could potentially be subject to the mandate.

The mandate does not apply to employees who report to the state’s independently elected officials — such as the secretary of state or the commissioner of public lands, who oversees the Department of Natural Resources.

The requirement applies to all state workers regardless of whether they work in a remote or office setting. “All workers need to be prepared to come to a worksite at any time necessary to meet business needs,” the governor’s office said.

What about local government workers?

The mandate does not cover separately local governments, elected officials, boards and commissions or any K-12 or higher education institutions. However, Inslee is encouraging those entities to adopt a similar approach.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county will mirror the state’s mandate, requiring about 13,500 executive branch employees to be vaccinated by mid-October. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said an estimated 12,000 city employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 18.


Can you opt out?

Limited exemptions are allowed for medical or religious reasons. State employees can contact their human resources office. Exemptions must be requested, and do not include “personal or philosophical objections,” Inslee said Monday.

Employees who are exempt may have additional safety requirements.

Inslee’s office says private-sector employers may choose “a different process.”

What happens if I refuse to get vaccinated or refuse to show proof?

Unless someone has a medical or religious exemption, employees who refuse to become fully vaccinated will be subject to “nondisciplinary dismissal” for failing to meet the qualifications of the job.

The same applies to employees who do not provide proof of vaccination.

How should I prove my vaccination status?

Inslee’s office largely deferred to state agencies to develop and implement vaccination verification. There are already protocols in place through the state’s reopening plan, Healthy Washington, though there will likely be updates to the protocol.

The state Department of Labor and Industries and the Department of Health have published requirements and guidance that all employers must adhere to. Acceptable types of verification include:

  • Vaccine card or photo of vaccine card.
  • Documentation from a health-care provider.
  • State immunization system record.
  • A hard copy or electronically signed self-attestation from the employee.

For state employees, however, proof of vaccination is required and attestation will not be allowed under the mandate.


Is this legal?

Inslee’s office states that under a state of emergency (which was declared in February 2020), the governor may “suspend statutes and prohibit any activity that he believes should be prohibited to help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace.”

Inslee’s office also added that as a large employer, the governor has an obligation to provide a safe workplace for government employees.

When do I need to start the vaccination process?

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and two weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

If you’re getting a Pfizer vaccine, you need to wait at least three weeks after your first shot to receive a second dose. You need to wait at least four weeks after receiving the first dose of the Moderna vaccine.

In order to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, that means the latest you can start your inoculation is:

  • Sept. 6: Moderna
  • Sept. 13: Pfizer
  • Oct 4: Johnson & Johnson

What about masks?

Inslee is not mandating masks at this time, though state and local officials are recommending everyone — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks in indoor settings.


Inslee said further actions on masks may be taken if COVID-19 infections continue to rise.

“We are not making a requirement to that regard, today, but people need to understand this is a wily beast we’re fighting,” he said Monday. “And I can tell you if these trends continue, we will have to take further actions, of one dimension or another, to restrain this is pandemic.”

Seattle Times staff reporters Jim Brunner and Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report.