Employers should give time off for COVID-19 vaccines, Utah’s lt. gov says

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson is asking businesses to provide incentives, ranging from paid time off to recover from symptoms to gift cards and cash benefits, for employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The push to get more Utahns vaccinated follows the state’s goal of 70% of adults being vaccinated by July 4, parroting President Joe Biden’s holiday vaccination target.

“We have to have something to work towards,” said Henderson at a press briefing on Thursday. “So, we are making the push. We can do better. We must do better.”

The Legislature has previously nixed incentives for people to get COVID-19 vaccines, breaking the mold from other state programs. A massive appropriations bill passed in a mid-May special session explicitly states that the $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds accepted will not be used to provide “financial incentives, awards, drawings or prizes, or any similar incentive to anyone for receiving a vaccination.”

Lotteries and other state incentives carry the risk that the public will expect similar rewards with future booster or variant shots, and will not plan on getting a vaccine before those rewards roll out, lawmakers said.

Now, according to Henderson, the Legislature and the Chamber of Commerce is reconsidering their stance on incentives.

The encouragement for more vaccinations arrives after 10 Utahns were recently diagnosed with the new, more contagious COVID-19 variants that originated in India. The vaccine is currently not known to be as effective against this strain, and further mutation in unvaccinated individuals could springboard another pandemic as more people congregate during the summer.

“We do not want to go back to where we were last year,” Henderson said. “We do not want to be in trouble again this fall, and if we want to avoid that, people need to get vaccinated.”

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson speaks during the last weekly COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 27, 2021. Briefings will now move to every other week.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson speaks during the last weekly COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 27, 2021. Briefings will now move to every other week.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

As of Thursday, over 2.6 million vaccines have been doled out in Utah, but vaccination rates have been slowing down to the point that Utah is no longer requesting vaccines from the federal government.

Vaccines make a sizable difference, says Henderson. Of the 22,767 COVID-19 cases and 64 COVID-19-related deaths since mid-March, 97% have been in unvaccinated people.

“All you need to do is spend an extra 20 minutes at Walmart when you go grocery shopping, or at your local pharmacy or Walgreens,” said Henderson. “All of those pharmacies have vaccine doses available, and it just takes a few minutes to stay and get that dose of vaccine.”

Over 20% of adolescents ages 15-18, who have been able to receive a vaccine since mid-May, have received a first dose. Over 42,000 12- to 15-year-olds have also received the vaccine in the past month. This is a quickly growing statistic, said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, but Utah can be doing more, since children can, and have, caught the COVID-19 virus.

Over 77,000 children in Utah have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with nearly 700 sick enough to be hospitalized. Seventy-four developed a rare condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, after complications with the virus, which can lead to lifelong symptoms.

“If you’re a parent, now is the time to get your children vaccinated,” said Hoffman. “If you’re a pediatrician, I’m asking you to reach out to the parents of your patients. They trust you with their kids’ health care, and they need to hear from you on this subject.”

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