For Some Americans, Getting A Vaccine Is As Easy As Showing Up To Work
For Denver-based flight attendant Ken Kyle, getting a coronavirus vaccine was as convenient as pulling up to the place he knows so well.
"It was great to be able to be vaccinated at the airport," Kyle says, quipping: "You know where you're going."
Kyle is one of a growing number of workers who are benefitting from a strong push by some companies to provide shots at employment sites, all in coordination with local and state health authorities.
It's part of a broader push by these companies to remove potential barriers to get the vaccines for their workforces. Some are even offering financial or work incentives to get their workers to get the shot.
The airline industry, for example, is working with airport authorities and health officials to provide on-site vaccines for workers ranging from pilots to ticket agents at a growing number of locations including Denver International Airport.
Other companies such as Amazon, General Motors and Walt Disney Company have also hosted on-site vaccination clinics for some of their workers.
Though providing shots to employees might raise questions about fairness at a time when some Americans are still struggling to get appointments for shots, experts say it's a critical initiative to boost the country's vaccination rate.
Many of the industries providing the on-site shots employ employees who must show up to work, and who, therefore, have less flexibility to go to a vaccine site than those working from home.
"Think about factories, plants, shift workers, people who may otherwise not have the opportunity to get the vaccine as readily as other groups," says Janice Bowie, a professor in the department of health, behavior and society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Bowie adds that on-site shots provided to workers must also comply with all state and local regulations, meaning nobody is allowed to cut the line.
Kyle, for example, got his vaccine at a time when Colorado was prioritizing those over the age of 60.
The veteran pilot, who's been in the industry since 1978, jokes that it's "really the only time that being older has somewhat benefited me."
Setting up a workplace vaccination clinic is a big logistical undertaking. And while the federal government is providing the vaccines free of charge, businesses may still need to hire nurses and set up clinics.
But that cost typically only adds up to single-digit or tens of millions of dollars, a small price to pay for billion-dollar corporations.
Tyson Foods has hosted more than 80 on-site vaccination events at many of its plants. Nearly a third of its 100,000 U.S.-based employees have already been vaccinated and more events are scheduled.
"We see offering the vaccine to our team members as another step in our efforts to help fight the virus, protect our team members and end the pandemic," says Dr. Claudia Coplein, who joined Tyson in December as its first chief medical officer.
Tyson says it has also invested more than $100 million in safety measures after outbreaks at several of its facilities last year were linked to more than three dozen deaths and more than 12,000 infections.
The company is one of the biggest meat producers in the world with more than $42 billion in annual sales.
Other companies are providing financial rewards to encourage their employees to get vaccinated.
Grocery store chain Lidl, for example, is paying its employees $200 if they get the vaccine. The company, which operates about 140 stores on the East Coast, employs roughly 6,000 people in the U.S.
"The $200 vaccine incentive is designed to remove financial barriers that could stand in the way so that our team that wants to get vaccinated is able to do so," Lidl's U.S. Communications Director Will Harwood says.
Rafael Monroy, a Lidl store manager in Long Island, New York, would have gotten the vaccine either way, but the financial incentive gave him a little extra motivation.
"Once the company announced that they were going to do a $200 incentive, obviously, yeah, I wanted to take advantage of it as well," he says.
The cost of the rewards for Lidl amounts to $2 million, a fraction of the German company's 89 billion euros ($106.6 billion) in revenue in fiscal year 2019.
Other grocery store chains offer similar incentives. Kroger is paying its workers $100 to get vaccinated, while Publix is offering a $125 gift card.
Meanwhile, Amazon is offering $40 per dose to workers who get the vaccine off-site. Target says it will provide its hourly workers with up to four hours of paid time off and free Lyft rides of up to $15 to get to and from their vaccine appointments. Even though the United States is far outpacing many other countries in vaccinating its population, more than 60% of Americans have yet to receive a single shot.
So having companies provide on-site vaccines or incentives to its workers could prove critical in the race to vaccinate America.
"While a lot of industries have had the ability to go virtual or hybrid, 95% of our employees don't have that option. And they're critical to the recovery and they're critical to the economy," says Kirk Limacher, vice president of human resource services at United Airlines.
"Right now, every day counts," he adds. "Every shot counts."
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