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caption: Pharmacy manager Srawan K Thodupunoori draws out individual doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Monday, March 22, 2021, for employee Covid-19 vaccinations at the Safeway Distribution Center in Auburn.
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Pharmacy manager Srawan K Thodupunoori draws out individual doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Monday, March 22, 2021, for employee Covid-19 vaccinations at the Safeway Distribution Center in Auburn.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Most state and hospital workers are vaccinated as Washington's mandate deadline looms

The lion’s share of hospital staff across Washington state are already fully vaccinated. But thousands of staff could still end up leaving the workforce due to the state's vaccine mandate, according to the Washington State Hospital Association.

Next week is the final deadline for hundreds of thousands of state workers subject to Washington's vaccine mandate. It requires affected workers to be fully vaccinated by October 18 or risk losing their jobs.

Exemptions are available for genuine medical or religious reasons, and the timeline has been extended for some state workers in limited circumstances, including if their exemption request is denied and they need more time to get their shots.

Among those subject to the state’s vaccine mandate are hospital workers. Hospital leaders say there's been a significant increase in vaccination rates among workers over the past couple of weeks.

A survey conducted by the association shows roughly 88% of hospital workers are currently fully vaccinated, with 94% of hospitals in the state reporting.

The number of vaccinated employees is expected to rise.

Cassie Sauer is the CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association. She said the final number of employees leaving the workforce likely won't be known until early November, but estimates are between 2-5%.

“Two to five percent is honestly better than many of us thought might happen,” Sauer said during a media briefing Monday.

But, she added, “staffing is tight in hospitals so any loss of staff is a big deal and there are some places with particularly low vaccination rates that will need to curtail services."

Sauer said up to 7,500 workers could be lost statewide.

Vaccination rates differ across the state, with rural hospitals more likely to lose a larger number of workers.

The same is likely true in community health clinics in different parts of the state.

In the Seattle area, Neighborcare Health clinics have about 97 percent of staff vaccinated, according to a spokesperson.

Others are partially vaccinated or have received exemptions. Only two people in the organization have indicated they’ll resign due to the mandate.

“Neighborcare Health and our fellow [community health centers] are suffering workforce shortages, but not because of the vaccine mandate. It's because people are leaving the industry due to burnout from all the chaos and stress of the pandemic,” said Neighborcare spokesperson Mary Schilder via email.

Healthcare workers are not the only ones subject to the state’s vaccine mandate. Many state workers are also facing the upcoming deadline.

According to new data released by the state, nearly 90% of workers in state agencies are verified as fully vaccinated as of October 4. That’s up from 49% roughly a month ago.

The data set covers nearly 62,000 workers in executive cabinet agencies, and shows slightly different levels of vaccination between departments.

The Washington State Patrol is 88% vaccinated, while 98% of employees in the Governor’s office are vaccinated.

The Department of Health sits at about 90%.

“We all can be extremely encouraged with the progress we have made in vaccinating public servants in response to this pandemic,” Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement.

Inslee also said the vaccination rates will continue to increase. There’s a lag in the data and the deadline is still a week away.