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Safe By Summer asks Clark County employers to aim for 80% vaccinated

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
2 Photos
Mackenzie Samuelson, from left, of Beaches Restaurant and Bar chats with customers Andrea Pelton and Maegan Davies while stopping by their table May 6.
Mackenzie Samuelson, from left, of Beaches Restaurant and Bar chats with customers Andrea Pelton and Maegan Davies while stopping by their table May 6. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Several of Clark County’s biggest business associations are rolling out a coordinated vaccination campaign called Safe By Summer, calling on local employers of all sizes to pledge that they will aim to have at least 80 percent of their staff fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Aug. 15.

The program doesn’t have a monitoring or enforcement mechanism, but it encourages business owners to make it easy for their staff to get vaccinated by offering paid time off, designated vaccination days or incentives such as a catered lunch to try to reach the target.

“By pledging, you’re saying you’ll do whatever you can as an employer to make that happen,” Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce CEO John McDonagh said.

Widespread immunization

Aug. 15 is about three months away, but Identity Clark County president Ron Arp said the group’s biggest focus will be on getting vaccination regimens underway in the next six weeks.

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines each require a multiweek gap in between doses plus two weeks after the second dose to reach full immunity, he said, so the process has to begin by the end of June in order to hit the mid-August target.

The group launched a campaign website last week, safebysummer.com, featuring a sign-up form for the pledge, a map of more than 40 vaccination sites in Clark County and a series of flyer, letter and email templates for participating businesses to post for their employees.

More than two dozen local employers have already signed on, including health care organizations such as PeaceHealth and Vancouver Clinic, restaurants like Main Event and Farrar’s Bistro and building and real estate companies like Fuller Group and Ginn Group.

The campaign is open to all employers in Clark County, and owners outside the county are welcome to sign up, too, McDonagh said. In addition to business staff, the campaign encourages employers to make sure their employees’ families all get vaccinated.

The 80 percent target applies to individual businesses’ staff rather than trying to hit that mark in Clark County in general, McDonagh said, but he added that he hopes widespread business participation will have a significant impact on the county’s overall numbers.

“It’s more of a public vaccination campaign,” he said. “Our influence is with the employer community, and maybe with some of the employees, but it’s really just our effort to elevate the conversation about the need for the vaccine that will get us back to normal.”

The target was chosen because it is often cited by experts as the likely minimum threshold to achieve herd immunity, where enough of the population is immune that the virus can no longer readily circulate. It was also chosen to acknowledge that some people will be either unable or unwilling to get vaccinated, McDonagh said.

As of Monday, 51.44 percent of Clark County residents aged 16 and up have gotten at least one vaccine dose, and 39.18 percent of that same group are fully vaccinated, according to Washington’s COVID-19 data dashboard.

Campaign development

The chamber and Identity Clark County decided to team up after both groups discovered that they were considering similar campaigns. In the case of the chamber, McDonagh said the idea arose from discussions among the Restaurant Roundtable, a weekly virtual meeting of Clark County restaurateurs.

The restaurant owners in particular were concerned that Clark County could slide back to Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan if case numbers increased, which would trigger a much harsher set of operating restrictions for businesses.

“I think it shows good faith to (our political) leadership,” said Mark Matthias, owner of Beaches Restaurant and Bar in Vancouver. “Let each county work through this themselves. Let’s look to the future, let’s make this positive, and let’s get beyond the fear of being closed.”

On the Identity Clark County side, Arp said one of the group’s board members in the health care sector raised the issue and asked how the business community could help speed up vaccinations.

Arp said he approached the idea as a marketing challenge analogous to the launch of a new consumer product. Marketing campaigns are designed around a typical product adoption cycle, he said — the innovators and early adopters pick it up first, followed by an early majority of consumers and then eventually a broad majority once the laggards catch up.

The early adopters in this case were the front-line workers and vulnerable people who were first in line back when vaccine supplies were limited. But the tipping point came sooner than expected, he said — eligibility expanded to the whole adult population in mid-April, and the vaccine supply now exceeds the demand, signaling the start of the last phase of the marketing campaign.

That last step tends to take a long time because it relies on word of mouth, he said, convincing hesitant buyers to sign on based on what they hear from their friends and family. But to make sure Clark County doesn’t roll back, the business community wants to try to shorten that stage to just a few months.

“In its purest form, what Safe By Summer is all about is trying to collapse (those marketing) time frames,” he said, “by encouraging people to adopt something faster than they otherwise would.”

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