Businesses help encourage vaccination in new COVID hotspots

As COVID-19 cases swiftly multiply in states where vaccination rates are low, businesses are stepping up to encourage vaccine-hesitant residents — including their own clients — to roll up their sleeves. 

It’s a logical effort, health experts said, as some people who are vaccine-wary are more likely to trust information coming from a community source with whom they have a relationship than they are information from, say, a government official or pedigreed doctor.

The Biden Administration’s “Shots at the Shop” vaccine initiative, designed to encourage Americans to get their jabs in nearly 1,000 salons and barbershops — spaces that are intimately familiar to many— has helped bump up vaccination rates in African-American communities across the U.S.

Katrina Randolph, owner of Tre Shadez Hair Studio in Capitol Heights, Maryland, has transformed her salon into a makeshift information center and vaccine clinic where customers can receive their vaccines — after getting their hair done. Randolph, who is also a community health worker, said she has known many of her clients for more than 20 years. Roughly 43% of Prince George’s County residents are vaccinated, falling below both the state and national averages. 

“While they are sitting in my chair I try to have that conversation for as long as they are sitting there to try to help them make a decision by the time they walk out the door,” she told CBSN.  

Meeting people where they live, work, play

In Georgia, where COVID-19 hospitalizations are creeping upward as the more ferociously transmissible Delta variant surges, the Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend partnered with state health officials to promote vaccination at a concert at the track — the first since the start of the pandemic — ahead of a Nascar race. 

Vaccines were made available to local fans who could choose to participate in the state’s “I Said Yes!” campaign, empowering residents to get the vaccine for their own reasons. 

“‘I Said Yes’ demonstrates that everyone has their own reason for saying yes to the vaccine; from seeing their family again, to getting back to work, to getting back to racing, and more,” the Georgia Department of Health said in a statement. 

The event targeted Nascar fans, who make up “a pretty broad audience,” Nancy Nydam, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Health, told CBS MoneyWatch. “We are really trying to reach people who are unvaccinated where they live, where they play, where they work.”

Less than 38% of all Georgia residents were fully vaccinated as of July 15, according to the latest state data. Nydam said some individuals who have yet to become immunized against COVID-19 aren’t necessarily opposed to the vaccine but say getting jabbed can be inconvenient.

“We said, ‘OK, we’ll bring the vaccine to you where you are and that can mean bringing it into a business or particular community or area. It’s not only the accessibility part of it but people also tend to do what they see other people do,” Nydam said. 

“A stretch for a lot of employers”

The Delta variant has not stopped visitors from flocking to Branson, Missouri, a tourist hub and now one of the hardest-hit locales for the state’s Delta variant outbreak. 

“Low vaccination rates in these counties, coupled with high case rates and lax mitigation policies that do not protect those who are unvaccinated from disease, will certainly and sadly lead to more unnecessary suffering, hospitalization and potential death,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said of southwestern Missouri in a briefing last week. “We are really encouraging people who are not vaccinated yet to get vaccinated and wear a mask until you do.”

Low vaccination rates and high numbers of Covid-19 cases are the norm across Missouri, which relies heavily on tourism, particularly during the summer months. Just shy of 40% of all Missourians are fully vaccinated, with vaccine rates as low as 12% in some counties of the Show Me State. 

COVID cases rising as vaccinations lag 04:53

To that end, local businesses are urging residents to get vaccinated so they can continue to entertain visitors without reverting to the kinds of restrictions that were in place at the pandemic’s peak. 

Through its “Covid Stops Here” initiative, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry celebrates businesses that achieve a 70% vaccination rate or higher among employees by giving out bronze, silver and gold designations. The chamber’s signs, ranked by percentage rates, let customers and clients know an establishment is a safe place to do business.

The new program, announced Thursday, has already received a handful of applications, according to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. 

“You need a lot of people to get injections to get to 70%,” said Dan Mehan, the chamber’s CEO. “Some employers are already there but it’s going to be a stretch for a lot of employers.” 

At this late stage in the pandemic, COVID-19 vaccines are widely available to the entire adult population in the U.S. — meaning anyone who wants to get vaccinated, can do so. 

“You’re not going to not get a shot because it’s not available,” Mehan said. “The state’s doing a good job of making it available, it’s just a matter of getting people to cross the line and get it.”

The only barrier that remains is convincing the vaccine-resistant to get jabbed. 

“This is a unique opportunity to highlight businesses that are out in front on this and give them something to place inside their workplace, celebrating the fact that they’re leading the charge on vaccination,” said Jacob Luecke, the chamber’s director of communications. “They can also place something in their entryway to let the public know, when you enter this workplace, it’s a safe place, where the staff is vaccinated.”