US workers enticed with bonuses, time off to get COVID-19 vaccine

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NEW YORK - As COVID-19 vaccination drives get into gear across the United States, some businesses are offering transportation, paid time off and bonuses of up to $500 to encourage workers to get the jab.

Labor-intensive industries like slaughterhouses, supermarkets and farms, whose workers are at higher risk of contracting the virus, have taken the lead, with several large grocery chains offering two to four hours paid leave time for employees to get vaccinated.

"Providing accommodations so employees can receive this critical vaccine is one more way we can support them and eliminate the need to choose between earning their wages and protecting their well-being," Jason Hart, CEO of supermarket chain Aldi, said in January.

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Others have taken advantage of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations that allow them to set up their own vaccination centers.

California-based Bolthouse Farms, which sells carrots, smoothies and juices, holds weekly immunization sessions at its main site and pays $500 to all full-time employees who accept the shot.

Meat giant JBS is offering $100 to vaccinated employees and has distributed materials in several languages to emphasize the safety and effectiveness of immunization. By mid-March, about a third of its 60,000 employees had received a first dose.

Retail chain Target will pay workers up to $30 in transportation costs related to getting a vaccine.

Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the country, offers $100 to those who are vaccinated, and also to staff who refuse to take the shot for medical or religious reasons, as long as they take a health education class.

Companies in the gig economy are making similar offers. Grocery delivery platform Instacart is offering $25 to its shoppers, who are not employees.

Other industries have taken a more forceful approach. United Airlines Chief Executive Scott Kirby in January mentioned possibly making the vaccine required for pilots, crew and other employees.

"We are still not at the point where we can make the vaccine mandatory and are still working through the eligibility issues between each state and vaccine supply," a company spokesman told AFP.

'SOFT MANDATE'

Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, said companies can mandate that employees get vaccinated, "with caveats."

"Covid-19 vaccines are authorized under an emergency use authorization, not approved in the usual way, and there is legal uncertainty," Reiss said.

At the same time, companies could face lawsuits if an outbreak occurs in their workplace.

Some workers may however turn down getting vaccinated, while unions may want to negotiate with management over the jabs.

Reiss said that it would be appropriate for companies operating in environments particularly vulnerable to outbreaks, like nursing homes or prisons, to mandate the vaccine.

Most other companies are probably better off offering "incentives or a soft mandate," like requiring people who don't get vaccinated to wear protective equipment like masks or telecommute.

"Most of the hesitancy we're seeing now is not anti-vaccine people but people who are nervous about the new vaccine, and they can be reassured over time," she said.

According to a February survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, only five percent of American bosses intend to impose the vaccine on all or some of their employees.

Other firms have turned their vaccination efforts not to their own employees but to the public at large, in a bid to speed up consumption and the economic recovery at large.

Krispy Creme is offering a free doughnut until the end of the year with proof of vaccination, while Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland, Ohio has offered beer costing 10 cents to the first 2,021 people presenting a vaccination certificate.

Facebook page “The Keepers Of Chaim” uploaded a video on March 14 that falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines are being used to tag people, essentially making them “barcodes for life.” The video also claimed that COVID-19 vaccines will eventually alter the biological form of humans.

The video, entitled “The Bar Code For Life,” featured an interview with a certain Celeste Solum. Solum was said to be a former officer of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the US agency responsible for assisting citizens during disasters.

Solum said COVID-19 vaccines are being used to alter the human body, with the primary goal of mass extermination.

“So what will happen with the vaccine is you get it injected into you, and then it self-assembles. And then it swarms through your body and it crosses your blood-brain barrier and it takes over your brain. It harvests your fluids in your body, your moisture, as it grows and it grows until we’re no longer human,” Solum said.

She then warned towards the end of the clip: “The only way to avoid it is to say no to the COVID test, to the vaccination.”

This is false. COVID-19 vaccines do not work the way Solum described. FEMA also denied that Solum was ever an employee of the agency.

Although Solum did not mention a specific vaccine brand, the video showed the logo of American pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Together with German biotechnology company BioNTech, Pfizer developed a vaccine for COVID-19 that introduces messenger RNA (mRNA) into the body.

Instead of the traditional way where the antigen is injected into the body, mRNA vaccines give the body the genetic code needed to produce the pathogen’s antigen itself. This spurs an immune response, which teaches the body how to defeat similar antigens in the future. They are not used to track or identify people.

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There are also no indications that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines can “take over” the human brain. According to Pfizer, potential side effects of its COVID-19 vaccine include injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, fever, injection site swelling, injection site redness, nausea, malaise, and enlargement of the lymph nodes.

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