By Lee Savio Beers & Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
August 3, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
In many parts of the country, the beginning of a new school year is less than a month away, which means our window of opportunity is quickly closing to get eligible children vaccinated for COVID-19 before they return to classrooms. In May, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to roughly 23 million adolescents ages 12 and older – but just 3 out of 10 eligible adolescents are fully vaccinated. Children in areas with lower income levels and in communities of color, two groups that have been disproportionately impacted throughout the pandemic, are even less likely to have gotten their shots.
Meanwhile, the highly transmissible and potentially more dangerous delta variant is now driving new infections higher across all 50 states, making it harder to curb the spread of COVID-19 before the school year begins. That’s why pediatricians and the Society for Human Resource Managers have teamed up with the Health Action Alliance to share vaccine facts and make it easier for working parents to access vaccines for eligible children.
Many working parents face substantial barriers accessing COVID-19 vaccines and catching up on routine childhood immunizations that may have been delayed during the pandemic. Together with more than two dozen leading business and public health partners, we are calling on employers to take steps to support working parents who have made the choice to vaccinate eligible children.
By providing paid time off to attend vaccine appointments and care for children recovering from potential side effects, employers can make it easier for workers to protect their children and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others. According to SHRM’s research, employers can also lighten the burden by offering vaccine counseling from trusted healthcare providers and partnering with local health departments to offer worksite family vaccination clinics.
The public health case is clear. But there’s also a strong business case that should resonate with any employer who is committed to worker retention and equity. Widespread vaccination is critical for returning to full workforce operations, reopening offices and reliably bringing many parents back into the workforce.
For more than a year, families have been expected to help children manage a number of difficult challenges, including remote learning, while also balancing work and numerous other responsibilities. Those unable to do so lost their jobs or had to make the difficult decision to stop working in order to care for their families. This has been especially difficult for women in the workforce, particularly those in families with lower income and from communities of color.
Getting children reliably back into in-person school environments will strengthen learning and improve mental, social and physical well-being for millions of children. And keeping schools open by removing barriers to COVID-19 vaccines and routine immunizations will create opportunities for millions of parents to reliably return to the workplace and to the workforce, strengthening our economy at a critical moment in our recovery.
Employers have played a critical role in sharing trusted and accurate facts about COVID-19 and supporting workers throughout this unprecedented public health emergency. Recent public opinion surveys have indicated that businesses are among the most trusted sources of information on COVID-19 vaccines, second only to doctors. And research shows that employer encouragement and paid time off has significantly strengthened vaccine uptake among workers. SHRM’s polling earlier this year found nearly 7 in 10 workers wanted to see their employers encourage and make it easier for workers to get vaccinated.
Employer efforts to encourage vaccination for those who want it should now be expanded to support working parents who are considering vaccines for their eligible children. Kids can get sick from COVID-19, and “low risk” doesn’t mean “no risk.” Coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective, and help children avoid becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 and transmitting the virus to others. Vaccination is the best way to protect our children and loved ones.
Many businesses are already stepping up by offering paid time off for parents, or providing child care, transportation or other support to make it easier for working parents to access vaccines for their children. Others are partnering with local public health departments to organize on-site vaccine clinics for workers and their families. These early efforts are encouraging and should be applauded. And we urge many more companies to do the same.
Let’s make sure working parents have the trusted facts they need to make informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccines for their children. And let’s make sure that parents who choose to vaccinate their children know that their employer is behind them – for the health of their children, for the safety of our communities and for a stronger, healthier future for everyone.
Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP, is the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Johnny C. Taylor Jr. is the president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management.
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