OLYMPIA — Nearly 90 percent of Washington’s hospital staff statewide are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a recent survey released a week before a deadline for workers to either be vaccinated or receive an exemption in order to keep their jobs.
Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, said Monday that with 94 percent of the state’s hospitals reporting, an overall rate of 88 percent fully vaccinated was reported as of last week’s cutoff date for vaccination in order to make the deadline. Under the mandate issued by Gov. Jay Inslee in August, full vaccination is considered two weeks after a final dose, meaning workers needed to receive a final dose of either Pfizer or Moderna, or the one-shot dose of Johnson & Johnson by Oct. 4.
The governor’s mandate also applies to most state workers, long-term care employees, and teachers and staff at the state’s schools, including the state’s colleges and universities. The only opt-out is a medical or religious exemption, though the exemption only ensures continued employment if a job accommodation can be made, such as someone doing telemedicine instead of in-person visits.
Sauer said that of the 12 percent hospital staff not fully vaccinated, there’s a mix of staff who have started the vaccination process, have either applied for or received an exemption and accommodation, or haven’t provided verification. She said that her group is estimating that those who may lose their jobs because of the mandate will land between 2 percent and 5 percent of hospital workers, which ranges between 3,000 and 7,500 employees.
Hospitals are still sorting through numbers, and several are allowing employees who have started the vaccination process to take leave if their final vaccination status isn’t complete until after the deadline, so final numbers won’t be known until early or mid-November, she said.
Sauer said that while the upper range of potential 5 percent loss is better than they had originally predicted, “we know there will be services curtailed across the state.”
“Staffing is tight in hospitals, so any loss of staff is a big deal,” she said. The biggest impact will be felt in rural Eastern Washington, where vaccination rates are lower, she said.
The governor’s Office of Financial Management on Monday released updated numbers that show nearly 90 percent of the 61,821 state workers covered by the mandate have been vaccinated as of last week, up from just 49 percent a month ago. More than 1,500 employees have received either a medical or religious exemption and have been accommodated by their agencies, according to the state, which increases the vaccination rate of non-accommodated employees to 92 percent.
In a statement, Inslee said that the state has been preparing contingency plans for any potential staffing disruptions after Oct. 18, but said vaccination rates in the state “should settle any concerns.”
“There will not be massive disruptions in state services,” he wrote.
As of last week, more than 77 percent of people age 12 and older have initiated vaccination in Washington state and nearly 71 percent are fully vaccinated.
There have been more than 606,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — plus about 77,000 “probable” cases — in Washington state, and 8,064 deaths.