As the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines continues across the country, some states and other jurisdictions are making them available to specific groups of essential workers, including construction.
But just because they are eligible does not mean that all construction pros are stepping up for a shot. In fact, 46% of readers responding to last week's Construction Dive survey who have not yet gotten the vaccine said they have no plans to. This is in line with another recent survey which found that construction workers are fourth from last in vaccine willingness among all industries.
Their reasons for hesitancy are many, respondents said, and range from those who don't think they need to be inoculated to others who said they believe it presents a health risk.
Some said that the rapid nature of the vaccines' development and emergency FDA approval left them questioning its safety.
"This vaccine was rushed, still remains in emergency status and several of them are brand new technology rather than traditional vaccines," one wrote. "They are very unproven over time. The data shows that if you are healthy and take proper precautions you can protect yourself and others without the vaccine risk."
Others said they are willing to get the vaccine but are dismayed by the amount of time it takes to get an appointment and travel to vaccination sites.
"Our problem has been access for our office and field employees, many have had to drive 2+ hours each way to find a vaccination site, I personally had a 2 1/2 hr ride each way for my wife and myself," said one. "This is just wrong."
Of all the nearly 450 respondents, 26% have been fully vaccinated, with another 34% saying they are awaiting a second shot. Forty percent have not yet been vaccinated.
Those that have taken the vaccine say it's for both personal and public health reasons, and that getting vaccinated is the best way to get the economy going and construction back to full force.
"I was ecstatic to get my first shot," said one respondent who is awaiting the second dose of the Pfizer vaccination. "The only path back to normalcy and a healthy economy is putting this virus behind us. Let's get back to life already!"
Nearly all respondents — 93% — said their companies are not offering incentives or bonuses for getting vaccinated although some said their companies are strongly encouraging it.
"We are encouraging all subcontractors working on our projects to ensure their employees are extended all opportunities to receive a vaccine," wrote one. "We are highly recommending that all our direct employees receive the vaccine(s) as soon as they are eligible and our superintendents are requiring all recommended protocols be rigorously enforced on our sites. We had three direct employees who contracted COVID-19 on a jobsite in early spring 2020, so we learned early on that the virus could have far-reaching implications."
A high-risk industry
Whether they plan to take the vaccine or not, 70% of construction pros who took part in the survey said they think people in the industry are at high risk for contracting COVID-19. They noted the large numbers of people coming on and off jobsites as a potential spreader of the virus.
"There are so many close workspaces on every size project and subcontractors are spread out in every market," one said. "It is impossible for everyone to maintain a 6-foot buffer around themselves and stay in their company 'quaranteam.' Choke points and gathering areas are also a problem. Unless everyone wears a medical grade N95 mask 100% of the time on every project, COVID will be transmitted amongst the workforce."
The survey results found a deep divide — and even animosity — between construction pros who are enthusiastic for the vaccine and those who are hesitant.
"People who refuse to get vaccinated should be denied health care at a hospital," wrote one vaccine supporter. "Why should the community spend money on folks who are refusing to do their part in controlling the disease?"
"We owe it to each other to do what we can to end this mess," wrote another. "Unless you have been told by a physician that you shouldn't get vaccinated you should be getting signed up to help protect everyone."
One reader pointed to studies showing that construction workers have had COVID-19 at higher rates than other industries. This reader said that not having the vaccination should be treated as an unsafe condition for the site and people shouldn't be allowed to work until vaccinated.
"There are other jobs off-site they can work but earn less," the respondent said. "I don't like wearing a seat belt. But as it is the law, saves my life and possibly that of someone else in their car then I wear it. The same philosophy should apply to vaccinations. if you aren't taking for yourself at least take it for the safety of others."