King County, Seattle drop COVID-19 vaccine mandate

King County and the City of Seattle on Monday officially dropped their COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Employees with the city and county must no longer provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, effective immediately. King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell made the announcement Monday, following guidance from Public Health – Seattle & King County.

The vaccine mandate first went into effect mid-2021. Officials say more than 98% of King County's 15,000 employees—and 4,000 hired since—provided proof of vaccination, while less than 2% were fired. In Seattle, more than 99% of employees were retained, and less than 1% were fired.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: More than 94% of WA state employees complied with vaccine mandate, officials say

Public Health reported that before they recommended lifting that mandate, they first look into the possibility of a COVID surge this winter season.

Given King County's high vaccination rate, booster numbers, low community spread and low COVID infections, Public Health determined the risk was low enough to end the mandate.

"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. Establishing a vaccine mandate for employees and contractors was critical to keeping employees and the public safe, and keeping services flowing. Today our experts advise that immunity has reached a level that allows these requirements to be relaxed," said Constantine. "With high vaccination rates and effective, updated boosters available, we are in a different place in the pandemic, and our policies and regulations will change to reflect the best information we have available today, as they have throughout the last three years."

Constantine also ended the county’s COVID-19 emergency proclamation. The Executive’s Office noted this will not change booking restrictions at county correctional facilities, which they say will remain due to staffing shortages.

Gov. Inslee ended the state’s emergency proclamation on Oct. 31, which is also when Seattle’s ended.

"The vaccine mandate was an effective and necessary tool for protecting the health and safety of City workers and the public we serve," said Mayor Harrell. "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. 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."

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Despite the vaccine mandate lifting, officials still recommend people stay up-to-date on their COVID vaccines. Current health guidance includes getting a bivalent vaccine—which includes updated components of both COVID-19 and its Omicron variant for better protection.