Business unusual — COVID and vaccinations

July 15, 2021

By Sandra Millon Underwood, RN, PhD
FAAN Professor, UW-Milwaukee College of Nursing

From lotteries, to scholarships, to free tickets to various entertainment venues, across the nation communities continue to identify creative ways to persuade people to get COVID-19 vaccinations. Some of the most vulnerable populations— like African Americans— are experiencing the lowest percentage of vaccinations. For example, according to the Wisconsin Immunization Registry, as of the end of June only about 6,200 residents in Milwaukee’s 53206 ZIP code have received one dose of the vaccine, accounting for 27 percent of the population. In the 53210 ZIP code, about 8,200 people, or 30 percent of the population, have received the vaccine. Several efforts are now being employed—including community health care workers going door-todoor— to help bolster those numbers and ensure vulnerable populations are vaccinated. In addition, some small business owners are quietly using their platforms to help persuade individuals as well. Long-time barber and owner of Ray’s Clippers Hair Styling Salon and Men’s Barbershop Health Initiative leader, Ray Bufford is one such individual.

Barber Ray Bufford

“I’ve been vaccinated and I spend a lot of time talking with customers about the vaccine when they come into my shop. I try to persuade them to get the vaccinations. The argument that seems to work best is when I can convince them that if they don’t do it (get vaccinated) for themselves, get the vaccine for their loved ones. “I’ve been a barber for a long time so I try to talk to customers who first came to me as children and now they have their own children. Our younger generation is a whole different species. Even after telling them that getting the vaccine is a life or death situation, it’s sometimes difficult to get people to change their minds. You can lecture them all day and night, but sometimes they just don’t listen. The only thing that works for some people is just getting down to their level and bluntly telling them, ‘if you care about your family, just get the vaccine’,” said Bufford.

Many employers, especially small businesses and organizations that are already experiencing worker shortages, have been reluctant to impose workplace vaccination mandates. That may change in the coming months once the vaccines receive full regulatory approval. In early May, Pfizer applied to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Moderna Inc., announced on June 1 that it has begun the submission process. Some attorneys predict an uptick in employer mandates if the FDA grants their requests. In general, employers have the legal authority to mandate vaccinations, but that also comes with obligations related to protecting employees’ records of inoculations.

In a sign that the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact is waning and vaccines are having a positive impact on the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that fully vaccinated people may resume their pre-COVID-19 pandemic activities without wearing masks, except where required by, among other things, federal or state law and local business and workplace guidance and rules. While this is welcome news for many, the CDC’s announcement has also left employers wondering whether they still need to, or should, require fully vaccinated employees to wear face coverings consistent with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) COVID-19 non-mandatory guidance. The workplace safety agency has instructed employers to follow the CDC’s recent mask guidance for employees who are fully vaccinated. OSHA’s announcement does not apply to activities in the health care industry, and it plans to update its non-mandatory COVID-19 safety and health guidance based on the CDC’s new mask guidance. Although OSHA has given employers the “green light” to permit fully vaccinated employees to stop wearing face coverings in the workplace, employers must still adhere to state and local mandates.

Jim Gaillard

Jim Gaillard, Vice President of Ezekiel CDC/Project Hope (Ezekiel) and a master electrician, acknowledges that his organization does not mandate the vaccinations. Ezekiel CDC is a non-profit organization that trains unemployed and underemployed individuals in the construction trades to rehab homes and sell them to first-time homeowners. The organization’s office is in Milwaukee’s Amani neighborhood, ZIP code 53206, and most of the organization’s trainees reside in this neighborhood. Because of the nature of their industry, Ezekiel CDC is subject to OSHA’s guidelines.

While Gaillard and the administrative staff have received the COVID-19 vaccination, convincing some of the trainees to get vaccinated has been challenging. The non-profit does require trainees to wear masks and practice social distancing if they are not vaccinated, but convincing trainees about the merits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine has mostly fallen on deaf ears.

“We don’t require our trainees to get vaccinated, but we encourage them to do so. Unfortunately, many of the trainees have had negative encounters with law enforcement. In fact, some became involved with Ezekiel CDC while they were inmates at the Milwaukee County House of Corrections and began their training with us under the Huber Law. Because of their life experiences—to put it bluntly—they don’t trust white people. Their refusal to get vaccinated is based on trust issues. It’s difficult for us to break through those kinds of barriers,” said Gaillard.