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Starting Monday, the COVID vaccine mandate will be dropped in Seattle and King County

Starting Monday, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will no longer be required.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — After nearly two years, King County and the City of Seattle will no longer require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.

Mayor Bruce Harrell and Executive Dow Constantine said the vaccine mandate will be dropped as a requirement, starting Monday. The decision was made after Public Health – Seattle and King County indicated that immunity has reached a high enough level to relax restrictions. 

Redmond Mayor Angela Birney said the city was also terminating its order requiring city firefighters and paramedics to be vaccinated following the announcement from King County and Seattle.

Health officials said King County’s high level of vaccination boosters and lower levels of community spread has helped COVID-19-related hospitalizations to stabilize at a safe level. Almost 90% of King County residents between 18-64 years of age have completed the primary vaccination series, but many still need updated boosters to reduce the risk of serious infections, according to health officials. There have been 544,594 COVID-19 cases, 15,385 hospitalizations and 3,457 deaths in King County since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest Department of Health dashboard. 

King County and Seattle's vaccine mandate was in place since mid-2021 until it expired on Monday. All county and city employees, contractors and volunteers were required to show proof they received the initial COVID-19 vaccination series, according to the mandate. 

Officials said more than 98% of King County’s nearly 15,000 employees provided proof of vaccination at the time the mandate launched, along with nearly 4,000 employees hired since the mandate was instituted. Less than 2% were separated at that time due to the requirement. 

King County Metro had the most terminations of any department, with 103 workers who left, including 51 transit operators. The King County Sheriff's Office had the second with 51 terminations. The Department of Natural Resources and Parks had 50 terminations.

“Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, King County’s policy has been to follow the science, listen to the experts, and protect life and health," Constantine said in the release. "Establishing a vaccine mandate for employees and contractors was critical to keeping employees and the public safe and keeping services flowing."

Constantine announced that the county's COVID-19 emergency proclamation expired on Monday, but the orders will not impact booking restrictions at King County correctional facilities. These restrictions remain in effect due to staffing shortages, Constantine said.

The Seattle Mayor's Office said Monday that separated employees could apply to open job postings. The city said it separated with 174 employees who did not comply with the mandate. Utility departments, such as Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, and the fire department were most impacted.

Harrell called the mandate an "effective and necessary" tool in the early days of the pandemic. 

More than 99% of the City of Seattle employees provided proof of vaccination or received an accommodation, while less than 1% were separated at that time.

“The City’s actions then and now have always been informed by the science of the pandemic and recommendations of public health officials – an approach based on data and dedicated to saving lives," Harrell said. "Rooted in our shared values of safety and health equity, we will continue to follow this approach as we respond to next steps in the pandemic and continue to advance efforts to ensure a thriving and equitable recovery for all Seattle residents and neighbors."

Health officials cautioned about the impacts of a potential winter surge even as restrictions loosen.

“While the significant benefits of vaccination have not changed, the acute threat to our community and healthcare system has decreased," said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. "At this stage in the pandemic, we have higher levels of immunity from vaccination and from many people having had COVID-19 infections. Treatments such as Paxlovid antiviral treatment are available for people who get infected and may be at higher risk. We also have tools to further reduce the spread of illness through improving indoor air quality (e.g., through ventilation and filtration) and, in some settings, with the use of high-quality, well-fitting masks.”

Public Health – Seattle and King County "highly recommends" the public follow the current vaccination guidance which includes a bivalent booster dose for the best protection.

“We are now in a different phase of the pandemic compared to where we were in 2021 and 2022 and it makes sense to remove any requirements for vaccination,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Public Health continues to encourage everyone to be fully vaccinated and to be prudent about the use of masks in indoor settings.”

Washington state's vaccine mandate for healthcare and education workers ended this fall when Gov. Jay Inslee lifted all remaining COVID-19 emergency proclamations. However, Inslee said vaccination would continue to be a condition of employment for most state agencies.

A spokesperson for Inslee's office said Monday it didn't have plans to modify or remove its vaccine requirement for state workers.

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