by April Sims
(This article was originally published by The Stand and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
As governments and employers announce mandates, COVID-19 vaccination is center stage. While 60% of eligible folks in Washington State are fully vaccinated, and the vaccination rate is higher in some job sectors, we know some of the working people we represent have not gotten the vaccine. At the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), AFL-CIO, we’re working to provide folks with the answers they need to make an informed choice about vaccination. Talking with union members, a question has come up repeatedly: I already had COVID-19, should I still get vaccinated?
In November 2020, my daughter came home from work feeling unwell. An essential worker, she’s one of thousands of working people in Washington who showed up at her job site even as many of us moved our work lives virtual. Two days later, she tested positive for COVID-19.
Within a few days, despite attempts to isolate, my two daughters, my husband, and I all had COVID-19. I’m someone who rarely gets sick, but the coronavirus took me out. My usually energetic family spent well over a week fighting the virus, and even longer recovering from the lingering fatigue. As secretary treasurer of the WSLC, I have access to paid sick leave, but my daughters and husband had to miss work, unpaid, while they recovered.
One thing I know for sure: I never want to have COVID-19 again. And I’ve seen the research that suggests vaccines provide greater protection against serious illness for folks who’ve had COVID-19 previously. All my family members work in community settings, coming in contact with coworkers or community members, and we have loved ones who are high-risk.
So we talked to our family health care providers, and to trusted labor leaders in health care. We read through resources that addressed our concerns as Black Americans who’ve seen how our health care system has failed us. With concerning variants like delta on the rise, my family made the choice for vaccines to be part of how we keep ourselves and our communities as safe as possible. And my family is among the 77% of Black Americans who say they’re very likely to get a booster shot when available (per the NAACP).
I don’t want to make light of anyone’s anxiety or concern about vaccinations.
If your experiences with seeking health care in this country have left you with less money and not a lot of answers, it’s understandable to be distrustful.
If your experiences with seeking health care in this country have left you feeling unheard, marginalized, or patronized, it’s understandable to be skeptical.
If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and even taking time off to treat a cold means you won’t make rent, it’s understandable to be afraid of potentially missing work if you have vaccine side effects.
If you’re struggling to make ends meet, it’s understandable to be focused on meeting tomorrow’s needs rather than problems down the road.
These experiences and concerns are real. And still I encourage you to get vaccinated.
The reality is, as working people we know what it feels like to be treated like we don’t matter by people in power. Rarely are we provided the support we need to protect our safety and our families’ safety.
But this time, working people can access a medical intervention that has demonstrated its effectiveness in preventing serious illness. Working people have been on the front lines of this pandemic, risking exposure to COVID-19 every day. We deserve the protection of this vaccine. We’ve worked for it.
And for folks who have already been vaccinated who are feeling frustrated by people who haven’t chosen to get the shots, let me ask for patience and grace as our siblings are considering this important decision. The vaccine is offering strong protection against serious illness or worse. Variants are concerning, but booster shots to counter potential waning immunity are on the horizon. And we know that the rate of vaccination has started to increase once again in the United States.
Organized labor is made up of millions of people with different views and experiences. But solidarity means we care about our labor siblings and their well-being like we care about our own. Right now, members of our movement need support and encouragement as they face complex choices in the coming weeks.
April Sims of Tacoma is secretary treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), AFL-CIO.
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