Do not wait: Be proactive with local health authorities to secure vaccination priority for your drivers. That’s the advice of Elizabeth Kamalakis, owner of Coachlight Tours in Hardeeville, South Carolina.
Bus drivers and other transportation workers are among those identified as “essential critical infrastructure workers” by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Therefore, they qualify for priority in vaccine administration, right after health care workers and the elderly in assisted living centers.
Despite that ruling, business owners still need to act quickly to ensure that eligible staff is taken into account by state and local health authorities. That strategy worked for Kamalakis, who called her local health department in early January to get her drivers on the list for vaccines.
“I asked if they could put our drivers on the status of priority when the vaccine comes in,” said Kamalakis, a United Motorcoach Association Board Member. “Do something. Make noise.”
Get on their radar
Essentially, the health department will not come looking for your eligible employees, she said. Be proactive. You must get on their radar rather than waiting to be contacted.
Those eligible for this priority vaccine status, known as “1b” are “workers supporting or enabling transportation and logistics functions, including, bus drivers, dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, driver training and education centers.” Ultimately, governors decide if their states will adopt this priority.
What should be done? Make sure your state follows the federal recommendations that classify motorcoach industry workers as 1b. Company officials should reach out to local health agencies for contacts and up-to-date information.
When Kamalakis called the local health department, she explained that her drivers transport senior citizens and schoolchildren.
“I made friends with the lady in the immunization department,” she said. “I explained to her what our situation was, and she said, ‘As soon as everything gets on target, we’ll be in touch.’ Then they called me and said, ‘We have spots available.’”
The biggest challenge was that she had only a matter of hours to gather her staff at the Jasper County Health Department. She received the call at 11 a.m. for a 5:30 p.m. appointment.
While she offered the opportunity to her staff to get the vaccines, Kamalakis was careful to make sure they didn’t feel it was mandatory. She says everyone at the company — nine drivers and two office staff — were excited to get vaccines.
“We all walked into the health department together, and we were all sitting around having a good time. People thought we were just crazy,” Kamalakis said.
Fortunately, no one had any side effects from the vaccines.
Precautions paying off
With everyone fully vaccinated with their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by Feb. 11, Coachlight has been letting clients know all the safety precautions the company has taken — and it’s paying off.
“There was a trip available, and we got it because of having all our drivers vaccinated,” Kamalakis said. “We were very excited about that because we had not done anything for a while. So it became very encouraging as a result of us going and getting the vaccines.
“When people call in, the first thing we do is let them know what our policy is for COVID, and then also we let them know that we are a member of the UMA AssurClean program, how we clean our buses, and that we have all been vaccinated,” Kamalakis said.
Business beginning to come back
Motorcoach operator members of UMA acknowledging the UMA AssurClean statements qualify to display UMA AssurClean decals on their vehicles and receive a certificate documenting their participation. Drivers in the program may carry cards acknowledging their participation in training addressing SARS-CoV2 once completed.
Kamalakis is beginning to see business coming back after more than a year.
“It’s not anything where we were before all this happened, but we see some movement. Most of it is sports and things like that. We have had a few churches call and ask about our policies, and they’ve tentatively planned things,” she said.