Some Tennessee employers pushing for COVID vaccinations

By Nadia Ramligan, TN Public News Service

Some Tennessee employers are ramping up efforts to convince their employees to get vaccinated, as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads.

As of early July, it had accounted for more than 50% of new cases in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And in Tennessee, the state’s Department of Health reported 125 cases of the Delta variant as of July 8.

Jeff Lamarche, executive director for the General Motors plant in Spring Hill, said his facility has offered onsite vaccinations for employees.

“Two onsite clinics with Murray County Health Department, bringing nurses onsite, provided vaccinations to several hundred employees onsite, in two different clinics, so that means two times of providing both doses,” Lamarche outlined.

Other employers have offered bonuses, paid time off and other incentives to get the shots, but vaccination rates continue to stall. According to an analysis by the New York Times, it would take six months for Tennessee to reach 70% of adults with one dose at the current pace of vaccinations.

Lamarche added despite loosened COVID protocols nationwide, his plant has been cautious to let go of masks and social distancing.

“Even though the CDC has changed their guidelines, the auto industry, basically the Detroit three and the UAW, have, I’d say, stepped back and taken a more cautious approach before we really start to dial back down our protocols,” Lamarche explained.

He acknowledged companies are absorbing the costs of keeping infections at bay, but emphasized higher vaccination rates could reduce expenses to get operations back on track.

“Throughout COVID, we had to deal with higher absenteeism levels, higher costs of the extra protocols we put in place,” Lamarche recounted. “There was a lot just to continue to keep the operation running.”

He reported thousands of Spring Hill plant employees have been vaccinated so far.