More than 300 SEPTA workers got their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last Friday at Main Line Health, as part of an effort organized by the transit authority, but not every worker who signed up got one that day.
Allison Cooper, who drives the Route 77 bus, was one of the workers who didn’t get an appointment that day. She thinks she signed up too late, and there weren’t enough doses for everyone.
Cooper, 54, said she was initially leery of the vaccine because of how quickly it was developed, but she and her family members had decided to get it because they all care for her 91-year-old mother.
“It’s important we all get it to protect her,” she said of her mother, who lives with her.
Now, she’s waiting to hear from SEPTA about the next time she can get one.
As Philadelphia widened vaccine distribution last week to some types of front-line workers, some said they were eager to get the vaccine, even if they were a little wary. But like other people who are currently eligible, many workers in Philadelphia’s “group 1B” were confused. Many said they hadn’t heard yet from their employers about it. Some weren’t sure where to sign up or which online registration forms to trust. And others wondered whether they’d lose out on pay if they had to miss work to get the vaccine.
First responders, public transit workers, and service providers working with high-risk populations are currently eligible for the vaccine, the city of Philadelphia said last week. Next up will be teachers, child-care workers, and food service workers, but they’ll have to wait until the first group is vaccinated, which Health Department Commissioner Thomas Farley said could take several weeks. But workers interviewed for this article said it was hard to find information about who exactly was eligible and when. Many were relying on trusted organizations, such as their union, to figure out how to get the vaccine.
Bob Paczewski, a dairy manager at the Acme on Cottman Avenue, said he told the pharmacist at his job that he wanted to be the first to get the vaccine to set an example for his coworkers who are more hesitant. But Paczewski, a member of union UFCW Local 1776, said he was a little discouraged that he and his coworkers were still waiting.
“When are we gonna get it?” the 54-year-old said. “Nobody seems to know.”
Claudia Garcia, a house cleaner who also cares for seniors in their homes, also felt in the dark. It was the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance, an organization that she’s a part of, that told her she was eligible and helped her sign up for a spot. She’s waiting to hear back. But Garcia, 37, said she wished the government put out more information about the vaccine, including in her native language, Spanish.
“We need the government to consider us much more,” she said through a translator.
Barista Emilio Flores signed up for a vaccine because he read on the Instagram account @phreedomjawn that food service workers were eligible. He got an appointment through the Black Doctor’s COVID-19 Consortium, except he found out just two days before and had to call out of work — and lose a day’s pay.
Still, Flores, 26, who has asthma, was relieved to get it because the coffee shop where he works has been considering reopening for indoor dining. And he was glad he was able to make an appointment for his second and final shot, so that he could plan ahead.
Flores said it was concerning that it wasn’t easy to plan to get the vaccine, especially because many restaurants and coffee shops are already running on a skeleton staff during the pandemic and might be less flexible. It’s a potential hurdle to getting fast-food and retail workers vaccinated, because they tend to have unpredictable schedules, and some fear losing hours or getting disciplined if they call out unexpectedly. (A Philadelphia law called “Fair Workweek” that went into effect last year aimed to tackle the hardship of unpredictable schedules by mandating that chains provide schedules two weeks in advance.)
Some employers are paying workers to get vaccinated, such as JBS, which runs a Montgomery County meatpacking plant that has lost workers to COVID-19, and specialty food retailer Di Bruno Bros. JBS, which has been criticized for not protecting workers during the pandemic, is paying employees $100 to get vaccinated. Di Bruno Bros. is paying workers $25, according to an email to workers shared with The Inquirer.
UFCW 1776, a union whose members are largely in group 1B, assembled a $250,000 pot of money to create a raffle for members who have gotten vaccinated, said president Wendell Young IV. It’s also working with the more than 100 businesses that employ his members to make sure they don’t lose pay if they get vaccinated while they’re on the clock, though Young declined to identify employers who agreed to this.
The union, which plans to open a vaccination site at its Plymouth Meeting headquarters for members, was also hosting educational sessions to combat misinformation about the vaccine, Young said.
Garcia, the house cleaner, said she had heard stories that scared her about the vaccine, including that it was designed to control overpopulation. There is no scientific evidence for such a claim. But, she said, her desire to protect her health and that of her three kids outweighed her fears.
32BJ SEIU, a union whose members are in group 1B, said it was hosting similar informational sessions because some members have been apprehensive about the vaccine. It was holding off on sharing registration information, though, until February.
“We need to feel really sure that the information we share results in members successfully getting the vaccine on the first try because we may only have one chance at earning their trust in this process,” said Gabe Morgan, 32BJ’s Pennsylvania and Delaware state director.