The reported vaccination rates of King County’s nearly 15,000 employees has soared since County Executive Dow Constantine issued a vaccine mandate two months ago, but more than 2,400 employees, including bus drivers, sheriff’s deputies and parks workers, remain unvaccinated or haven’t reported their status.
County employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, according to the mandate, issued in early August. That means they must have received their shots by Oct. 4, unless they’ve received a medical or religious exemption.
About 83% of county employees have reported as being vaccinated as of Monday morning, according to county data. Countywide, about 81% of all people, age 12 and older, are fully vaccinated, according to county data.
King County Metro Transit, which runs the county’s bus system, the Sheriff’s Office and the county parks department have the lowest vaccination rates among the county’s 15 government departments. Still, all three departments have seen major increases in reported vaccination rates since the mandate was announced on Aug. 10.
On Aug. 23, about two weeks after the mandate was issued, only about 35% of King County Metro Transit employees had reported as vaccinated. As of Monday morning, about 78% of Metro Transit employees had reported as vaccinated. That’s still the lowest vaccination rate of any department of county government. With more than 4,000 employees, Metro Transit is by far the biggest county department.
In August, about 44% of the King County Sheriff’s Office had reported as vaccinated. As of Monday morning, that number had nearly doubled, to about 80%.
The county Department of Natural Resources and Parks increased from a 55% reported vaccination rate in August, to about 79% Monday.
The most vaccinated government departments are the office of the executive, human resources and King County Elections, all of which are more than 96% vaccinated. The public health department is 91% vaccinated.
These numbers represent employees who have reported their vaccination to their employers. They likely underestimate the actual vaccination rates, as other employees have likely been vaccinated but not yet reported to their employer.
“The most effective tool we have against COVID are the safe, effective vaccines, and we continue to work with employees to help answer any questions they may have about getting their vaccine, and encourage them to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Chase Gallagher, a Constantine spokesperson.
Over the past 30 days in King County, people who are not vaccinated are 46 times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID and 78 times more likely to die from the disease than those who are fully vaccinated, according to county data.
Vaccines are available for free at pharmacies, health care providers and other sites, and health insurance is not required.
On Monday morning, Metropolitan King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who is running for reelection, wrote to Constantine and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan asking them to ease the vaccine mandates they’ve issued for government employees. He asked them to allow a weekly testing option in lieu of vaccination.
Dunn cited the vaccination rates of the Seattle Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office and worried they’d be forced to lay off hundreds of officers.
“While I share the desire to increase vaccination rates in our jurisdictions, the current policies may be too rigid,” Dunn wrote. “Mass termination of our government employees would result in staffing shortages and cripple our ability to serve the public in the way in which we are obligated.”
Constantine’s office reiterated Monday that there would not be a testing option — the same rules that apply to state workers under Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate — for employees who do not get vaccinated, sending along the same statement the county released when announcing the mandate.
“To keep staff, families and communities safe, there will be no test-out option for employees,” the statement said. “Past opt-out testing policies in congregate facilities for unvaccinated staff have not been efficient at preventing outbreaks that impact employees, clients and families, resulting in the loss of life of dedicated staff.”