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Feb. 25, 2024

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Vancouver: No plan to mandate vaccines for city employees

Workers categorized under health care must follow state rules

By , Columbian staff writer

The city of Vancouver is not considering implementing policies that would require that its employees receive their COVID-19 vaccinations, a city spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.

Following an announcement from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office that most state employees and health care workers need to be vaccinated no later than Oct. 18, King County and the city of Seattle implemented similar mandates. Last week, Inslee expanded the vaccine requirement to most education and child care workers.

Vancouver Director of Communications Cara Rene said that the city does not have a comparable vaccine mandate for its public employees, and it isn’t currently considering one.

Any change to the status quo “would come from the city manager after consultation with the city leadership team, which represents the entire organization,” Rene said in an email.

“Vancouver city leadership works as one team,” she added.

That policy applies to desk jobs as well as positions that frequently interact with the community, including officers with the Vancouver Police Department and staffers who operate programs and classes with Parks and Recreation.

However, a small portion of city staff fall under the health care vaccination mandate already established by Inslee, Rene said.

“Some city employees — such as first responders in the Vancouver Fire Department — are required to be vaccinated by mid-October under the governor’s vaccination mandate for those working in medical/health care environments,” Rene said.

Rene said the city has been collecting vaccination information from employees through a voluntary reporting process. According to that voluntarily reported data, the city estimates that more than 60 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated.

As of Aug. 18, Clark County Public Health reported that 57.4 percent of the general population of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated. Statewide, that figure is 63.6 percent as of Monday.

Vancouver has one of the largest payrolls in the county. According to data kept by the city’s Human Resources Department, Vancouver employs 1,700 people including full-time, seasonal and temporary workers.

A 2020 ranking from the Columbia River Economic Development Council of the region’s biggest employers indicates that four out of the top five — PeaceHealth, Vancouver Public Schools, Evergreen Public Schools and Vancouver Clinic — will fall under Inslee’s criteria for the vaccination mandate. Vancouver ranks as the seventh largest employer on the CREDC’s list, with 1,091 full-time staff.

Vancouver remains in the pack

Despite the announcement from Seattle and King County, most municipalities in Washington aren’t pursuing vaccine mandates for their workers.

Like Vancouver, most have indicated that they’re in a holding pattern — carefully watching for new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state and county health departments, before implementing any policy that goes beyond simply encouraging their employees to get vaccinated.

“Not at this time,” the city of Everett told a KOMO reporter earlier this month. “Mayor (Cassie) Franklin, however, sincerely hopes that all city employees and residents will make the responsible decision and get vaccinated.”

Both statewide and in Seattle, the decision to mandate vaccinations is drawing challenges, particularly from unions representing affected workers.

A statement from the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents approximately 45,000 people, indicated that members would “bargain the impacts of any vaccine mandate policies to ensure that public service heroes of this pandemic are treated fairly.”

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The Seattle Police Officers Guild claimed that they weren’t consulted by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office ahead of the announcement that their officers must receive their COVID-19 vaccination.

“Mayor Durkan’s timeline for vaccination doesn’t provide enough time for labor relations to bargain the decision of effects,” the guild said in a formal statement. “Can Seattle now endure more losses of police officers due to Mayor Durkan’s vaccination order?”

Columbian staff writer