The Covid-19 pandemic impacted every industry of our nation's economy. Hardest hit were small businesses, especially in communities of color. Many have been forced to close and more are struggling to stay open. The only way to change this trend is by fully reopening the economy, and that cannot happen until enough Americans are vaccinated. The group that can be the most effective in this area is also the most impacted by the pandemic: small business owners.
Small business is the most trusted institution in the United States, according to Gallup, and represents more than 90% of all businesses in the country. Business ownership is also a proven path to addressing the racial wealth gap. Before the pandemic, 43% of small businesses were opened in low-wealth communities, creating jobs and income in these economically disadvantaged areas.
A completely reopened economy will allow businesses to operate at full capacity, bring normalcy back to communities, and reduce staffing issues caused by Covid-19 exposure and infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 70-85% of Americans need to receive the vaccine to achieve herd immunity. For that to happen as quickly as possible, more small business owners need to become vaccine champions, starting with themselves and their businesses.
Our organizations jointly fielded a survey this year of more than 3,300 U.S. small employers and found that 64% say it is very important that their employees get vaccinated. More than half have had formal conversations, including staff meetings and one-on-ones with employees, and more than 80% of respondents are willing to encourage and incentivize employees to get vaccinated. The survey also found that 80% of small business owners plan to get a vaccine, which is 10% higher than the overall public. While these numbers are encouraging, they also demonstrate why they can and should be higher.
With all of the misinformation that was purposefully or accidentally shared in the past year, it is understandable to be skeptical about the vaccine. Since employees often look to their employers for information, it is important to remind them that all FDA-authorized Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They will not alter one's DNA nor give people Covid-19 or cause them to test positive for it. Covid-19 vaccines are free, and people do not need insurance or money to get vaccinated or to worry about any co-payments, deductibles, or unexpected bills for receiving one.
Nobody has to take our word for this, either. Many agencies and organizations, including the CDC, have compiled easy-to-digest information packets discussing the safety and benefits of the vaccines.
If small business owners are willing to champion vaccines, they need to do at least two things: 1) get the vaccine when it is their turn, and 2) create a vaccine plan for their employees. A good vaccine plan aligns with state or local vaccine policies, is clearly communicated to employees, and includes incentives, such as paid time off for employees to get the shot(s) and recover from side effects if they occur. It should also follow the CDC's guidance on wearing masks and social distancing, even after all employees are vaccinated.
Small business owners who want to do more can encourage local community members to receive the vaccine. There are a number of ways to do this, ranging from helping reduce vaccine hesitancy among friends, family, and peers to spreading awareness or providing logistical support. This is not only good for the health of the community, but it will restore the confidence of people who will be comfortable going back to normal with a fully reopened Main Street.
It has been a hard year, but small businesses across America have banded together and come up with creative ways to stay afloat. With the country being so close to the end of the pandemic, the leadership of small businesses is needed to get us there faster.
Ron Busby Sr. is president and chief executive of the U.S. Black Chambers Inc. Ramiro A. Cavazos is president and chief executive of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Chiling Tong is president and chief executive of the National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship. Rhett Buttle, founder of Public Private Strategies, served as national business adviser to the Biden campaign.