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King County health officer recommends mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for health care personnel

King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin voiced his support for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for health care and long-term care personnel during a briefing Friday.

SEATTLE — Public Health—Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said that he supports mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for all health care and long-term care personnel on Friday. 

He voiced his support for the mandate during a media briefing, which comes amid a recent sharp increase in cases county-wide that he blames largely on the highly transmissible delta variant.

Duchin joins numerous health care groups and organizations, many of which he listed during the briefing.

One major health care provider that has already placed the vaccination mandate on health care workers is the VA, which announced that it was following the recommendations of nearly 60 leading medical and health care groups on Monday.

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Duchin also delivered an update on the delta variant of the virus and its predominance in the county. The latest data shows that 78% of the sequenced cases in the county are due to the variant. 

He said that evidence shows delta variant patients experience symptoms after two to three days of infection, much faster than other variants of the virus, and reaffirmed that vaccines are still highly effective against all known variants. 

Despite being among the first counties to reach a 70% vaccination rate, Duchin is urging more King County residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"COVID-19 vaccines are among the most effective vaccines ever made," Duchin said, adding that the county is seeing a surge in residents seeking the vaccine with more than 1,500 people receiving their first dose from Thursday to Friday. The number is comparable to some of the county's busiest vaccination days since it has become available.

Duchin shared some other positive news, saying the county has not seen a COVID-related death in the last seven days. 

The latest data shows that 81% of eligible King County residents have initiated their vaccination. This means that roughly 680,000 residents remain unvaccinated, including about 300,000 children under the age of 12. 

He addressed breakthrough cases, or cases where fully vaccinated individuals test positive for COVID-19, and illustrated how rare these incidents are. 

In all of King County, Duchin said there have been 1,489 breakthrough cases, which represents less than .1% of the vaccinated population.

Dr. Larry Corey, of the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's report on breakthrough cases and vaccinated people transmitting the delta variant is not cause for panic, but does mean people should protect themselves.

“I think it is a teaching moment, one shouldn't interpret it that the sky is falling, actually that’s not the case at all,” he said.

Vaccines are keeping the vast majority of protected people out of the hospital, but Corey does recommend masking indoors and avoiding large crowds, even if vaccinated. And if you are not vaccinated – the risk remains much, much higher for severe disease or death.

Last week, Duchin was among the first officials in the state to recommend residents go back to universal mask-wearing in indoor public spaces, a move echoed this week by Gov. Jay Inslee and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Duchin said that he doesn't anticipate a future masking mandate but added, "Nothing is impossible."