OLYMPIA, Wash. — Hundreds of protesters gathered in Olympia to push back against Gov. Jay Inslee's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state and healthcare workers on Friday.
The proclamation handed down on Aug. 9 requires some state workers to be fully vaccinated as a condition of employment. Those covered under the mandate must complete their vaccination series by no later than Oct. 4 to meet the Oct. 18 deadline.
Yells of, "I don't consent!" rang loud and clear as hundreds protested at the Capitol, making clear some would rather lose their jobs than get the COVID-19 vaccine.
While opinions about the vaccines themselves varied among protesters, all agreed a mandate requiring the vaccines went too far.
“It is really about the mandate,” said state employee Tarah Kimbrough. “I do not feel that it is appropriate for the government, or governor is telling me that it is safe to get a vaccine when they have no idea what is happening with my body.”
Protesters argued the vaccine mandate is an abuse of Inslee's authority under Washington's state of emergency.
However, a spokesperson for the Inslee's office told KING 5 earlier this week a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is well within the governor's authority.
"We are confident that the governor has the legal authority to do this and that courts will agree," a spokesperson said.
“What they’re telling you and why they’re pushing it has nothing to do with the virus,” said Kimberly Johnson, an R.N. and health care worker. “This is about control, it’s about mandates. It’s about everything else besides the virus.”
Inslee issued the vaccine mandate in response to a surge of COVID-19 cases in Washington state, mostly tied to the highly transmissible delta variant. Some of the state's largest counties saw more than a 300% increase in cases within the last 30 days, according to the Department of Health (DOH).
Hospitals and health care facilities are under "immense and increasing strain" from an influx of new patients and employees testing positive for COVID-19, the DOH said.
Some protesters were also concerned the mandate would cause hospitals and long-term care facilities to lose employees at a time when they are already understaffed.
“We’re going lose a ton of healthcare professionals,” Johnson said. “They were tired before, they were absolutely exhausted before all this hit, then COVID hit. They’re done. They’re walking away from the field, they’re done. They’re tired of all of this.”
Other protestors said they didn't want a decision about whether or not to get the vaccine to be made on their behalf.
“I’m hearing from many employees saying I am going to find another job, I’m going to leave,” Kimbrough said.” The governor is not going to tell me what to do after I’ve already spent months forming a decision.”
The Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents many state workers, said it was not a sponsor of Friday’s rally, but a spokesperson said they have filed a formal demand to discuss the mandate.
Employees will need a medical or religious exemption to opt-out of the vaccine requirement.