Dobbins Air Reserve Base and Wellstar Health System facilities appear to be the first in Cobb that say they’ll require vaccinations for their personnel. Meanwhile, one business community leader says talk about vaccination policy is growing at his own business and others.
Dobbins Air Reserve Base to follow Pentagon instruction
Dobbins Air Reserve Base officials say they’ll follow guidance from the Department of Defense, after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this week the COVID-19 vaccine would be added to the list of required vaccinations for military service members.
Implementation plans are still in development, according to a statement from the base. The policy does not affect Lockheed Martin, which shares a runway with Dobbins.
Lockheed Martin officials did not respond to specific questions about vaccination requirements, instead referring the MDJ to an online policy. That policy says Lockheed is following COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including by requiring masks for the unvaccinated in areas of low virus transmission and for all people in high-transmission areas, of which Cobb is one.
Though the vaccine requirement for service members has not yet been made official, Austin’s memo said he would seek White House approval to make vaccines mandatory “no later than mid-September, or immediately upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensure” of COVID-19 vaccines, whichever comes first. President Joe Biden has signaled that he will approve that request.
Austin said the vaccine requirement is necessary to maintain the U.S. military’s readiness.
“All FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe and highly effective. They will protect you and your family. They will protect your unit, your ship, and your co-workers. And they will ensure we remain the most lethal and ready force in the world,” Austin’s memo said. “Get the shot. Stay healthy. Stay ready.”
Austin’s memo also said the Pfizer vaccine could receive full FDA approval early next month. COVID-19 vaccines widely available in the U.S. are currently still under emergency use authorization, a mechanism used by the FDA to speed up the use and availability of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies.
Wellstar facilities requiring vaccination, beginning Oct. 1
Beginning Oct. 1, Wellstar Health System officials say all staff will need to be fully vaccinated. That requirement includes all remote workers, physicians, medical residents, fellows, trainees, contractors, medical staff, students, temporary workers and volunteers, according to Wellstar.
All new hires will also have to provide proof of full vaccination before their start date.
Including Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta and Wellstar Cobb Hospital in Austell, the health system operates 11 hospitals, hundreds of medical offices and 17 urgent care locations, as well as rehab and hospice facilities in the state.
“This decision is in alignment with other leading health systems in Metro Atlanta and the country, as well as the scientific and clinical evidence that the vaccines currently administered in the U.S. are safe and effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death for the vast majority of the vaccinated people,” Wellstar said in a news release.
The health system says vaccination is the best protection available against the COVID-19 virus “and the rapid spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant.”
In addition, Wellstar said in a statement that it strongly encourages people to help stop the spread of the virus by getting vaccinated when eligible and practicing the “3 Ws”: wearing a mask, washing your hands and watching your distance.
Wellstar joins others, including Piedmont Healthcare and Kaiser Permanente, in requiring the vaccine.
‘Right thing for business’ and city plans
John Loud, owner of Kennesaw-based Loud Security Systems and chairman of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, told the MDJ on Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of any Cobb businesses that are requiring vaccinations as a condition of employment or for customers. However, he said that question has been coming up a lot lately, even for his own business.
Loud said in recent weeks, a staff member at his company was on their way to a residential sales call when a customer asked whether that employee had been vaccinated yet. They said, “no.”
“The resident said, ‘Would you mind if I had a vaccinated rep come to my house and reschedule?’” Loud said. “Of course, the staff member said, ‘No problem at all, we’ll do that.’”
But the request made Loud think and became a discussion among the staff: What happens as these requests are made more often?
“I cannot subject a customer, potentially, to an unvaccinated person with what’s going on now and the direction things are going,” Loud said, continuing the dialogue between him and his employee and referring to Cobb’s increasing rate of virus transmission. “I have a feeling society is going to start to question over and over whether somebody is or is not vaccinated.”
Loud estimated about half of his operations and install team, those who have personal interaction with customers, is vaccinated. Though he said he doesn’t anticipate requiring vaccination for his employees — he says that’s a personal choice — he does anticipate the more people ask for vaccinated employees to come to their home, the larger the backlog of requests could be and the more likely it is for unvaccinated employees to be forced to “sit at home, unpaid.”
Loud also said as full FDA vaccine approvals roll in and more employers in the hospitality industry, including cruise lines and airlines, begin to require vaccination, that’s likely to drive up vaccination rates. Similarly among local businesses, Loud said he sees in the near future consumer choice driving vaccinations.
He’s also taken to closing chamber events with a pitch to the audience: Please get vaccinated.
“It’s the right thing for business. It’s the right thing for society. It’s the right thing for our community and consumers. It’s just the right thing to do,” he said.
Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood, Kennesaw Mayor Derek Easterling, Marietta City Manager Bill Bruton and Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton said there were so far no official plans to require vaccinations in their cities, nor did they know of any restaurants or businesses that had implemented such a requirement.
Austell and Powder Springs officials did not respond to requests for comment on the matter by deadline.