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Wisconsin Businesses Urged To Help Their Workers Access The COVID-19 Vaccine

A top state health official is urging business leaders to get ready to help their workers receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The call comes as many more people will soon become eligible for a shot, and supply of the vaccine continues to ramp up.

Communication planners are also forming ways to convince the indecisive, or reluctant, to be vaccinated.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services interim Secretary Karen Timberlake said Wisconsin will receive its initial shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, 48,000 doses — with much going to immunize teachers and child care workers. In addition, as Timberlake told the Greater Milwaukee Committee Monday, the state expects 138,000 first doses this week of other vaccine brands for senior citizens and other approved groups.

"Supply is moving generally in the right direction. That's probably the place for me to leave it there,” she said.

Later this week, or early next, Timberlake said the state will announce the groups of people who will become eligible for the vaccine in April. That could be a huge expansion, as many as two million people — many of them with jobs.

So, Timberlake called on employers to make plans to help a lot of their workers get immunized.

"The most important thing you can be doing is helping your employees with access to good, fact-based, science-based information about vaccine efficacy and safety, vaccine availability. What the plan is for your workplace when your employees become eligible to be vaccinated? What the plan is to get them the vaccine? Whether that's referring them to their health care provider, whether that's bringing in an onsite clinic, whether that's encouraging them to look for a Walgreens or a MetroMarket or a Pick ‘n Save, where they can get vaccinated. Or, a public health site. There are many options,” she said.

Advocate Aurora Health's Cristy Garcia-Thomas said some companies will also need to take into account the language needs of their employees.

"English is not the first language for large portions of our community throughout the state and making sure we're addressing the education materials we have in multiple languages,” she said.

Garcia-Thomas said employers and health officials also need to realize that getting to a vaccination site will be a special challenge in some neighborhoods.

"Based off of the data that we have, there are five zip codes in Milwaukee County where there are higher rates of socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, households without vehicles and a disproportionately high rate of COVID positivity cases,” she said.

Local officials say they're also gearing up to convince more people to accept the vaccine, as the goal is to get at least 80% of adults immunized to hopefully achieve what's called herd immunity.

Mara Lord is a vice president for strategic planning at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a member of a local vaccine community mobilization team. She said to get to that 80%, messages may have to target what communication researchers call a moveable middle.

"They've identified that women age 35-54, those individuals largely employed as essential workers. So, those might be your CNAs in a health system, or individuals working in restaurants and hospitality, working in transit, etc. — these individuals, they're not sure. They're reporting in these surveys that they are questioning or they may not have information, or there's mistrust, but, they are open. These are the individuals we might be able to move toward informed choice of getting the vaccine. This is the group we're focused on in this community,” said Lord.

Lord said health agencies plan more collaboration with community-based organizations, and use of what's viewed as trusted messengers to get the pro-vaccine point across.


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