The Yakima Health District’s Board of Health want’s Gov. Jay Inslee to back off on his COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
After much discussion Wednesday, the health board approved a motion asking Inslee to consider alternatives such as weekly testing rather than an outright vaccination mandate.
Under the mandate, all state employees and those working in health care and in-person school settings must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
The mandate was prompted by a reluctance among some Washington residents to get vaccinated and the spread of the new and highly contagious delta variant, which has led to a resurgence in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
On Wednesday, 63 people were hospitalized in Yakima County because of the virus, said Melissa Sixberry, the health district’s director of disease control.
Health board members and health district staff debated whether to consider anything that isn’t pro-vaccination at a time when the virus is highly active and threatening.
Health District Executive Director Andre Fresco said we are in dangerous times.
Health board member Amanda McKinney, also a Yakima County commissioner, stood firm on her position that individuals, not Inslee, should decide whether to be vaccinated.
Other voices on the board, such as Dr. Dave Atteberry and LoDon Linde, voiced concern about the potential number of workers in health care and school settings that may resign or lose their jobs because of the mandate.
Last week a group of Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital staff protested against the mandate outside the hospital.
“I encourage them to get the vaccine but again I am concerned from a standpoint of the effect of holding firm on that mandate,” Linde said.
Linde made the motion to recommending alternatives to the mandate but stopped short of requesting the mandate be rescinded.
McKinney followed up with a motion of her own amending Linde’s to request Inslee’s mandate be rescinded.
Yakima Mayor Patricia Byers, Atteberry and McKinney voted in favor of the amendment.
Linde took a long pause before rejecting McKinney’s amendment to his motion. Board members Dr. Sean Cleary and Naila Duval, a Toppenish City councilmember, also voted no and the amendment failed 3-3. Motions require a majority vote to succeed and there’s no tie breaker.
Board member Ron Anderson, a county commissioner, was absent.
Afterward, Linde’s motion was approved 4-2. Duval and Cleary cast the two dissenting votes.
The board also discussed whether employers could face any legal challenges from workers for carrying out the mandate and who would be responsible if an employee were to experience health problems due to the vaccination.
James Elliott, the health district’s attorney, said he was not clear on who could be held liable for any adverse side effects, from a mandated vaccination, but did caution employers that there are state and federal laws regarding certain exemptions, such as religious, individuals have when it comes to mandated vaccinations.
“I would throw out caution to all employers out there to keep in contact with your employment attorneys,” Elliott said.