A movement is growing in Washington that’s pushing back against vaccine mandates. Protests have been popping up all across the state, including in Olympia, Lake Stevens and Bellingham.
State employees and health care workers are now required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or potentially lose their jobs.
Gov. Jay Inslee and ESD, the state’s Employment Security Department, also said people who refuse to get the vaccine and then get fired may not qualify for unemployment.
Now the pushback is intensifying, with protesters calling for “medical freedom.” A private Facebook group called “Washington State citizens against the mRNA injection mandate” had more than 14,000 members as of Monday.
Amy Forney, a member of the group, attended a rally protesting the vaccine mandates over the weekend in Lake Stevens. For many people against the mandates, it’s all about personal freedom.
“I’m not going to have people telling me what is good for myself and my family,” Forney says in a video she shared online. “Now is the time to be loud. We cannot sit back and let this stuff happen. We are slowly losing our freedoms,” she said.
“We are all feeling very strongly right now,” Forney said to KIRO 7 on Monday.
Dr. Dan Bustillos, a medical law and ethics expert, teaches at the University of Washington Bothell.
“I totally understand the impulse of not want the government to intervene in our personal actions and behaviors. I think that’s a good impulse. I think it’s very American,” Bustillos said.
“But because of the nature of pandemics and epidemics, vaccination isn’t just about you protecting yourself or taking on the risks of a vaccine. It is about protecting the public and those who can’t be vaccinated for various reasons,” he said.
Bustillos points out we live in a country where there is a limit to our personal freedoms. On the extreme example — laws aim to stop crime. You are not free to assault someone because that’s what you wanted to do with your body.
“In this case, it would basically be saying that people have an individual liberty to get infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and communicate it to others. And clearly, people don’t have that liberty and never did in the U.S.,” Bustillos said.
He compared the vaccine mandates to seat belt laws. Bustillos said there was also opposition to that mandate at first, but the public came around to the law once there was a better understanding of how beneficial seat belts are to public safety.
Some people who oppose the mandate have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine beyond freedoms.
Pam Kavanaugh said she got her second Moderna vaccine in March.
“I do believe in the vaccine and that it works,” Kavanaugh said.
But since March, she said she has experienced all kinds of long -term symptoms, such as fatigue, intense body pain and even seizures. She posted a video on Facebook detailing some of her daily challenges.
“Since that day in March, my life really hasn’t been the same,” she says, getting emotional in the video.
Kavanaugh said given her personal experience and after she found out about the vaccine mandate for health care workers — they must get the vaccine or potentially be fired — she felt others needed to hear her story.
“I don’t personally agree with the mandate — just because of the possible side effects,” Kavanaugh said. “I understand it doesn’t happen to a lot of people. It doesn’t happen to most people, actually. I just want everyone to have the full story,” she said.
“You have all those medical workers who for all of these months have taken care of COVID patients and had to watch them die. Now they’re possibly going to lose their job because they don’t want to get a vaccine that doesn’t have long-term testing. I don’t agree with that,” she said.
Kavanaugh’s situation is so incredibly rare that it’s not even something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning people about. She said she will have her first appointment with UW Medicine’s long-hauler clinic this week, which primarily helps treat COVID-19 patients who are coping with long-term symptoms.
UW Medicine’s long-hauler clinic confirmed to KIRO 7 on Monday it does have a few patients who reported developing long-term symptoms after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Overwhelmingly though, their patients are people who contracted COVID-19. Doctors at UW Medicine repeatedly emphasized that the risks of getting COVID-19 and developing serious health complications, or even dying, are far greater than any risks of the vaccine.
Bustillos is urging people to think logically about the vaccine — and to what extent medical freedom is absolute freedom.
“All of our freedoms can be abridged and, arguably, should be abridged when they interfere with other people’s rights,” Bustillos said. “That’s just part of living in a society. We have to respect others, and we can’t go around harming others,” he said.
As for the part of Washington state’s mandate that indicated state employees and health care workers could lose their jobs if they didn’t get the vaccine, Bustillos said based on past Supreme Court rulings, the move is constitutional. Per a 1905 ruling — which has been upheld many times — the Supreme Court decreed governments can impose compulsory vaccination laws “necessary for public health and safety.”
Bustillos said he was on the fence about whether cutting off unemployment benefits for fired employees had ethical reasoning but said he did see the logic.
“If you have a duty as a federal or state employee, which is to protect the public health of Washingtonians, and you refuse to take the steps necessary to ensure the public health, that that termination would be for cause. In which case, legally, you would not be entitled to certain unemployment benefits,” Bustillos said.
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