Last year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) lobbied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to view the country’s roughly 32 million retail workers as frontline workers, thereby including them in the first rounds of COVID-19 vaccinations.
The push was unsuccessful, and also moot—because the Trump administration placed the onus on governors to prioritize vaccination populations in their states. As a result, retail workers haven’t ended up in any state’s top priority groups (though those over 65 or with a preexisting condition do qualify for vaccination in certain states right now).
The retail industry is the largest private sector employer in the U.S., and one in four jobs in the country is reliant on the industry, according to the NRF. Its ranks are enormous—a fact that surely played a role in states’ decisions to exclude retail workers from the first rounds of vaccinations. Right now, even elderly and immunocompromised citizens are having trouble securing vaccine appointments. The Biden administration has just finalized deals with vaccine makers that it says will ensure most adults will be vaccinated by the end of summer 2021, according to the Washington Post. But right now, there’s not enough vaccine to go around.
Still, retail workers interact with the public more than most. When lockdowns occur, grocery and big-box retail workers still have to show up. And as the more infectious COVID-19 variants begin to circulate widely in the U.S., the risk for these workers multiplies.
With this stark reality in mind, a few major retailers have rolled out strategies to increase access to the vaccine for their employees, and are also incentivizing employees who are eligible to be vaccinated to do so, ASAP.
Amazon, which has more than 800,000 employees in the U.S., is preparing to administer on-site coronavirus vaccinations to nearly 20,000 of its workers in its native Washington, according to the Seattle Times—though as of Jan. 22, those workers were still waiting for a time frame, again due to vaccine shortages.
CVS and Walmart, which will be key vaccination sites in the coming weeks and months, said this week they will vaccinate employees in cases where doses of the vaccines are in danger of going bad; the vaccines have a short shelf life once they’re out of their deep-freezers.
Target announced Wednesday in a corporate blog post that it’s offering hourly employees up to four hours of pay when they get the two vaccination shots, and will also cover the cost of a Lyft ride (up to $15 each way) to and from the vaccination appointment. The retailer is also trying to strike a deal with CVS to vaccinate Target employees at CVS pharmacies inside of its stores, or at Target’s distribution centers.
Retailers Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and Dollar General are also offering employees paid hours off to get vaccinated. And grocer Kroger is taking a more direct approach—it’s paying employees who get the dual vaccination shots $100.
Top: A Walmart COVID-19 testing site (photo courtesy of Walmart)
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