June 1, 2021

It’s time to get Pierce County vaccinated

Businesses and organizations have pivoted multiple times during the pandemic to keep employees safe and serve customers. Now is the time to ensure workers and their families are vaccinated.

Operation Control Our Own Destiny, launched by the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance is a business-led effort to encourage employees, their families and the wider community to get vaccinated.

On May 20, a special edition of the COVID-19 Business Information Call featured a panel of Pierce County business leaders sharing best practices around getting employees vaccinated. The panel included Dr. David CarlsonSenior Vice President and Chief Physician Officer, MultiCare Health System;  Mary RagsdaleChief Operating Officer, St. Anthony Hospital, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health; David Moore DevineExecutive Vice President and Chief Marketing Director, Columbia Bank; and Aaron ArtmanPresident of the Tacoma Rainiers. A second interactive call held May 26 featured Lou Paulsen, Director of Strategic Operations & Risk Management, Port of Tacoma, and attorney Valarie S. Zeeck, Partner with Gordon Thomas Honeywell. Additional special-edition calls are planned.

Here are some insights shared during the two calls:

  • Focus on the big three: It’s safe, easy and free. To reach vaccine-hesitant employees, provide information that lets them know vaccines are (1) safe and effective, (2) readily available and free, and (3) have few (if any) side effects. Virginia Mason Franciscan Health produced and distributed FAQs and fact sheets that offered complete and accurate information and busted common vaccine myths.
  • Drive home that it’s good for business. As vaccine rates rise, people are more comfortable returning to restaurants, retailers and entertainment venues. Let employees know that it’s good for business when everyone gets vaccinated.
  • Offer incentives. From financial perks to paid time off to get vaccinated, there are loads of creative ways to encourage employees to get the vaccine.
  • Bring vaccines to directly to your workplace. Pierce County will work with you to make that happen. For more information, contact Jody Ferguson, Director of Pierce County Emergency Management, at jody.ferguson@piercecountywa.gov, or Betty Capestany, Director of Pierce County Economic Development, at betty.capestany@piercecountywa.gov.
  • Have leaders share their stories. At Columbia Bank, an internal communications campaign features leaders sharing their reasons for getting vaccinated. The bank also plans to leverage recent mask guidance from the CDC, recognizing that going maskless is an important motivator among employees.
  • Respect differences of opinion. Moore Devine said it’s important (and effective) to be respectful of those who don’t share the same perspective around vaccinations. “We tried to respect that diversity of opinions to encourage people to let their guards down,” he said. “Disarming defensiveness enabled them to better understand and absorb information.”
  • Follow L&I guidance…and stay tuned for more. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries recently announced that employers can allow workers to forego masks or social distancing if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Find out what’s new and what’s staying in place—for now. 
  • Understand what motivates people to get vaccinated. You may be surprised, said Valarie Zeeck. A new Time/Harris Poll survey sheds some light on what’s convincing people to get their shots. Read more about it here.
  • Think outside the box…or inside the ship. In addition to promoting vaccines and providing on-site vaccine clinics, the Port of Tacoma/Northwest Seaport Alliance offer single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines to crew members on visiting ships unable to get a vaccine in their home country. “We’re pleased to take care of our customers’ employees when they call here,” said Lou Paulsen. The effort also protects the community when mariners disembark while in port.

 Tacoma Rainiers hit it out of the park

The Tacoma Rainiers were the first local team to offer incentives for fans to get vaccinated, including sections for single-game buyers and season ticket holders. To sit in the designated sections, fans must enter a specific gate and show proof of vaccination. (OL Reign and Tacoma Defiance also expanded capacity with designated COVID-19 vaccinated sections.) While there’s been some pushback from people who don’t want to get the vaccine, those returning to the park after being fully vaccinated are appreciative. “That kind of welcome-back-to-normal is so key to motivating people,” Artman said.

The organization has also partnered with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to offer rapid COVID-19 testing so children ages 5-15 can attend with their vaccinated parents. And they’re teaming with Virginia Mason Franciscan Health and MultiCare to offer onsite vaccinations on the Party Deck. With new liquor board guidelines, folks will be able to enjoy a glass of wine or beer during their 15-minute post-vaccine wait period. 

Still a lot we don’t know

Unanswered questions abound as business leaders await additional guidance around masking, vaccines and social distancing. How do you check an employee’s or customer’s vaccination status? How are businesses handling in-person meetings? What are return-to-office plans? And what about making the vaccine mandatory? Panelists agreed the latter would be tricky until the vaccines are fully authorized by the FDA.

“We’re all asking the same questions,” said Bruce Kendall. “There’s a big gray area right now. And we all know a lot can happen week to week.”

Like all the COVID-19 Business Resource and Information Calls, recordings of the special sessions are available on the EDB website.


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