With the rollout March 19 of Phase 1B.4 of the COVID-19 vaccination program, about 2.5 million more Coloradans are eligible to get the shots.
That includes people 50 and older, higher education faculty and staff, and frontline essential workers in restaurants, manufacturing and transportation, among others.
The vaccines are “probably the most powerful tool to help stop the pandemic,” said Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.
“A healthy workforce helps us continue reopening the economy,” Draper said. “And the safer businesses are for employees, for their customers, for vendors and visitors to their businesses, the sooner we’ll all be back to normal.”
Because businesses can play a key role in the effort to get as many people vaccinated as possible, El Paso County Public Health has created a toolkit to help employers inform their employees about the shots and where to get them.
The toolkit includes:
• a customizable letter to employees that gives basic information about the vaccines and a link to find vaccination clinics;
• content that can be included in employee newsletters to share information;
• key messages about the vaccines that employers can use to educate employees;
• frequently asked questions for both employers and employees; and
• downloadable posters and flyers to encourage and support essential workers in their decision to get vaccinated.
Public Health, the chamber, the city of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center and other organizations are urging employers to take advantage of the toolkit and encourage employees to schedule their vaccinations.
Public Health has been working with the business community throughout the pandemic as part of a holistic approach to response and recovery, said Susan Wheelan, El Paso County Public Health director.
“There’s multiple ways that we are trying to support the business community,” Wheelan said. “We partner with the business community to provide technical assistance through webinars and follow-up phone calls, or however we need to provide that support. Sometimes it can be one on one, or it could be sector-specific.”
Public Health has developed other toolkits, and the SBDC developed the Bundle Up toolkit to help businesses successfully operate during the winter and a telecommuting toolkit.
The vaccination toolkit was initiated in partnership with the economic development and small business community and Regional Recovery Council, Wheelan said.
“It is specifically focused on how employers can help employees consider the vaccine and to really help them to make a plan to educate and support their employees,” she said. “We want to make it as easy and seamless as possible for employers.”
Employers are an important and trusted source of information for their employees, Wheelan said, and can help steer employees toward credible, accurate information about the pandemic and vaccination.
Encouraging employees to get vaccinated is a good business strategy, she said.
“When you get vaccinated, you protect yourself and you protect others,” Wheelan said. “That creates a safe, healthy work environment.”
That in turn leads to a better protected community, less disease, less hospitalization and a healthier economy.
“The COVID vaccine also can reduce the disease spread of the variants,” Wheelan said. “That’s something we’re monitoring very closely.”
At least two COVID-19 variants have been confirmed in El Paso County.
“But the more people that get vaccinated, the more protection we have,” she said.
“We want employers to continue the prevention measures that we’ve been asking people to practice — don’t go to work if you’re sick, social distancing, wearing a mask,” Wheelan said. “As our dial reduces restrictions, we want to have safe environments and people protected from COVID.”
Wheelan said she expects eligibility for the vaccine to expand further by mid-April. The department is continuing to sponsor pop-up vaccination clinics, like one that was held for restaurant workers on March 23 at The Antlers hotel.
Public Health worked with the Downtown Partnership, the Pikes Peak chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association and restaurant owners to present the clinic.
The agency also is working with health care providers to broaden access to the vaccine.
“The vaccination is free, and anyone, as long as they’re eligible, can go to any clinic” once an appointment has been secured, Wheelan said.
One of the best ways employers can encourage employees to get vaccinated is to lead the way, Draper said.
“At the Chamber & EDC, I’ve been very clear that I’ve gotten my vaccine,” Draper said.
For people who are reluctant to get the shots, “I would encourage them to look at the medical data and to look at the information provided by the statements from our medical leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health,” he said.
He would also encourage employees to continue mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing and good personal hygiene.
“Even after getting the vaccine, I’ll continue doing the same thing,” Draper said. “I’ll relax socializing some, but when I’m in public, I’ll still wear a face mask. We need to have a layered response and, even in the middle of the vaccination cycle, to continue that layered response.”
Draper said he encourages employers to use the vaccination toolkit.
Correction: The March 26 story “Toolkit helps employers promote vaccination” inaccurately reported that El Paso County Public Health created the Bundle Up campaign for small businesses. It was the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center. The Business Journal regrets the error.
“It’s a very effective set of premade information, ready to roll out,” he said. “It’s the easiest thing to do.”
He also encourages employers to give their employees time off to be vaccinated.
“I went to a clinic, got my shot, and was back in the office within an hour,” Draper said. “It’s a minimal time commitment. … We do it for voting, right? This is as important, right now, for folks to do that.”
Joe Campana, owner of the Rabbit Hole, Bonny and Read Seafood, Cork & Cask, Shame & Regret, SuperNova and SuperNova West, Stir Coffee & Cocktails and Fivestar Restaurant Equipment Repair, is recommending
to all of his 140 employees that they get vaccinated.
“I am personally against vaccinations myself, but I went and got vaccinated,” Campana said. “We have a few that are resistant, but I think by the end of the day they will get vaccinated.”
Campana said he is not forcing anyone to get vaccinated, “but I want all the employees to be safe and I want my kids to be safe.”
He said he had a reaction to a flu shot, but he has looked at the facts about the COVID-19 vaccines and believes them to be safe.
“When I looked at the stats, I think it was like 45 million, 50 million people that have received the vaccination already,” he said. “I know it’s higher now, and nobody’s died from it.
“I told my employees, ‘You have a choice. We know what corona is going to do to you if you get it. It’s possible you could die. Nobody’s died from the vaccine yet, so I think the odds are in your favor of taking the vaccine rather than not taking it.’”
(Several U.S. deaths have been reported following COVID-19 vaccinations, but none have been linked directly to the shots. As of March 23, more than 543,000 people have died from the disease in the United States.)
Campana said he is sharing the data and science with his employees and points out that, because of a health condition, he doesn’t do well with vaccinations.
“But I explain to them that I did it. Our president did it. Our vice president did it. Everybody in the medical field did it on national TV. Donald Trump even did it,” he said. “If all these elected leaders are doing it, it’s going to be OK.”
He also explains that the vaccine does not contain the actual virus and won’t make them sick, although some people experience side effects that are usually mild and pass quickly.
“I don’t want to fire somebody over it, because that’s their personal belief,” he said. “I don’t want to take that away from them, but I think the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Campana said he and his staff had a scare when five employees at one of his restaurants tested positive for COVID-19 after coming in contact with a single customer. He doesn’t want that to happen again.
As soon as restaurant employees were eligible to get the vaccine, Campana said he had managers send out information daily about where to get the shot.
“We’re definitely in constant conversations with everyone,” he said.
Campana said he will continue to require mask wearing and social distancing “until the CDC regulations tell us we don’t have to wear masks anymore. I honestly think masks will be gone in about eight to 10 months, the way we’re rolling out the vaccinations right now.”
Campana said he thinks that, within the year, “we’ll be close to 75-100 percent opening again. The more people who get vaccinated, that will draw us closer to being able to reopen our businesses completely.”
The toolkit can be accessed at elpasocountyhealth.org/employertoolkit.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center created the Bundle Up Campaign, not El Paso County Pubic Health. The Business Journal regrets the error.