Mass. employers still have options to vaccinate workers on-site
Boston Business Journal
By: Greg Ryan, with contributions from Jessica Bartlett
AccuRounds CEO Michael Tamasi said an on-site clinic could help drive up the vaccination rate among the company’s Avon workforce, which is now around 30%, he says.
Gov. Charlie Baker is still not giving the green light to Massachusetts businesses to vaccinate their employees using the state’s supply of Covid-19 vaccines. But employers are finding other ways to deliver shots into arms.
Walgreen Co. is ramping up a program that allows employers to offer Covid-19 vaccination clinics at their workplaces using vaccines the pharmacy receives directly from the federal government. CVS Health is offering a similar program. One major local business group, the Massachusetts High Technology Council, is notifying its members about a new Walgreen partnership on Tuesday, its top executive told the Business Journal.
Amazon.com Inc. is making plans to vaccinate its Massachusetts workers. Executives at other companies are interested in doing the same to help boost still-low workforce vaccination levels.
The Baker administration announced major changes to its vaccination strategy on Monday, with a goal of making it easier for harder-to-reach residents to get a shot. It is shutting down four of its mass-vaccination sites and shifting more of the supply to physician offices.
Those changes do not include setting up on-site employer vaccination clinics. Just a few months ago, state officials were seeking out employers willing to vaccinate their workforces, distributing guidelines to businesses and hosting informational sessions for interested executives. But in late February, the administration abruptly changed course, suspending the employer program before it got off the ground because of a lack of vaccine supply. It remains paused indefinitely.
Since then, some employers have lost interest in vaccinating employees on-site. Nearly 4 million people in Massachusetts have received at least one shot, and in recent days it has become easier to find appointments.
However, some employer demand still exists. Christopher Anderson, president of the Mass High Tech Council, recently reached out to the organization’s members about the possibility of getting their employees vaccinated through Walgreen — and enough expressed interest that the council is connecting them with the pharmacy giant.
PHARMACIES AT WORK
Through the program, Walgreen is offering to set up on-site vaccination clinics for the organization’s members. Each shot costs approximately $70 and can be covered by the employer’s health insurer, according to Anderson. The pharmacy can set up a clinic for an employer in a matter of days, he said. The Mass High Tech Council is offering members a point of contact at Deerfield, Illinois–based Walgreen to streamline things.
Walgreen itself offers services to companies outside of the Mass High Tech Council partnership. The vaccines come from the regular allotment that Walgreen receives from the federal government. Its clients include Apple Inc. and Amtrak. A Walgreen spokeswoman said that initially the pharmacy is going to workplaces to administer the vaccines, but that ultimately it will be able to vaccinate an employer’s workers in its stores as well.
CVS Health, meanwhile, is currently offering on-site clinics for businesses with at least 1,000 participating employees. As of last week, almost 20 employers nationwide were participating, including Delta Air Lines Inc., according to the company. Until recently, CVS assisted employers that were able to get vaccines directly from their state government, but with supply increasing nationwide, it is now able to “help employers obtain a vaccine supply where available,” it says.
Why would an employer bother setting up an on-site clinic when Massachusetts residents can get a shot relatively quickly on their own? Some are thinking ahead to the fall and winter, Anderson said, when case counts may increase again. (Experts worry that “herd immunity” to Covid-19 is not coming anytime soon.) If such a surge were to occur, every employee vaccination will count, so some businesses want to make the process as convenient as possible right now.
“The last thing we want to do is implement a return-to-work strategy … and then have to go back to sending people home,” Anderson said.
One of the state’s largest employers is poised to bring the shots directly to its many workers. Amazon plans to begin vaccinating its Massachusetts employees soon, spokesperson Nikki Forman told the Business Journal on Monday. Forman did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about how exactly the company plans to make those vaccinations happen.
An on-premises clinic holds special appeal for some executives whose employees have no choice but to work on-site. The Associated Industries of Massachusetts has heard from all sorts of midsize to large employers interested in vaccinating workers on-site, including a significant number of manufacturers, said Chris Geehern, executive vice president at AIM.
“Frankly, a lot of our manufacturing companies are located in cities where vaccination rates are a little bit lower than other areas of the state,” Geehern said.
AccuRounds CEO Michael Tamasi is interested in hosting a clinic at the manufacturer’s Avon plant, he said. About 30% of workers have been vaccinated already, but Tamasi is hoping to get that number closer to 70% to 80%. Giving employees the opportunity to get the shots at work would help drive up that number to some degree, he believes.
The Boston seafood company North Coast Seafoods wants to set up an on-site clinic at its Seaport District facility but has been waiting on word from the state about restarting the employer program, said Megan Pileggi, who works in business development for the company.
At another of its facilities, in New Bedford, about 60% of the workforce is vaccinated in part because of a mass vaccination site located directly on the waterfront in the city, she said.
Among those employers steering clear of on-site shots, many are encouraging workers to get vaccines in other ways. Some are offering perks like gift cards or paid time off to those getting vaccinated — The Hanover Insurance Group in Worcester is dangling up to three days of paid time off to research, receive or recover from a vaccination.