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From heroes to 'selfish': Nurse says Washington's COVID-19 vaccine mandate is creating division

Gov. Jay Inslee's office says it has the authority to require COVID-19 vaccines for state employees, health care workers, but not everyone is planning to comply.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Some Washington state employees and health care workers say after being called "heroes" last year during the onslaught of the pandemic, they feel like the governor has turned his back on them with the latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Hayley Bickle put herself through college to get her dream job, working as a registered nurse. The single mother, who is 31 weeks pregnant, is expecting to lose that job this fall because she refuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The overwhelming response that I’m getting is that I am selfish. Selfish? For the first time in my career, an RN, selfish,” said Bickle, who works as a contracted nurse with MultiCare Health System in Pierce County.

On Monday, Washington Gov, Jay Inslee announced that all health care workers and most state employees would need to be fully vaccinated against the virus by Oct. 4. Those who don’t receive vaccinations will not be allowed to keep their jobs.

A MultiCare spokesperson, Holly Harvey, said unless an employee is considered “exempt to be vaccinated” they must receive a vaccine to remain employed with MultiCare.

Bickle said she hoped her pregnancy would allow her an exemption, but said she does not meet any of the criteria.

Bickle said she regularly gets the flu shot and believes in vaccines, but until the Food and Drug Administration fully approves the COVID-19 vaccines (versus the current emergency use authorization), she will not get a shot, especially while she’s pregnant.

“I’m just against putting a vaccine in my body while I’m carrying my daughter, and possibly putting her at risk,” said Bickle, “That’s not for anybody to make that decision except for me.”

State employees and health care workers are planning a protest regarding the vaccine mandate on the state Capitol campus in Olympia Friday at noon.

A source close to the union that represents the Washington State Patrol said the mandate is causing “grave concerns” within the agency.

The source said that union is working with other state employee unions on potential lawsuits.

Tara Lee, spokesperson for Inslee, said, “We are confident that the governor has the legal authority to do this and that courts will agree.”

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