Last-mile company executives may be able to get their drivers the COVID-19 vaccine right now regardless of their age. One owner of a courier company created that opportunity, and now all of his drivers who wanted to be vaccinated have received it.
Ben Kaplan, the owner of Rightaway Delivery in Romulus, Michigan reached out to one of the bigger hospitals his company serves to make his case. “I called my contact at the hospital and said ‘We’re such a vital part of your operation and we represent you. It’s common sense for you to want our drivers to be protected.’”
Rightaway delivers medications from the hospital’s pharmacy, handles specimens from their labs and makes sure their COVID-19 tests get to the labs to for processing. In all, they work for 20 departments and 120 satellite offices around southeast Michigan for that one hospital.
When Kaplan first made his case to one of his contacts, she said he could only send in the drivers to be vaccinated who worked for her department. “What she didn’t realize was all the other departments in her hospital we take care of,” says Kaplan. “Once I explained that, she realized the smartest thing to do was to protect everyone in our company.”
As a result, Rightaway was able to offer the vaccine to anyone in the company who wanted it. “The lesson for other carriers is to make your case to all of the departments at every hospital you work for, including the clinics and labs,” says Kaplan.
Many Rightaway drivers and employees seized on the opportunity to get vaccinated. “They had a one-week window to fill out the paperwork, and everybody who wanted to got it,” says Kaplan. “It was a personal choice. We could not force people to get it. All I did was offer them the opportunity.” Kaplan, himself, jumped at the chance to get the vaccine.
Reactions from his drivers and employees has been overwhelmingly positive. “They told me they felt very lucky,” he says. “So many have thanked me. The people who wanted shots were pleased. They had been worried.”
He urges all last-mile company executives to do the same. “You should have a good enough relationship with your hospital customers to be comfortable making that request,” he says. “Tell them ‘We represent you. We come into your hospital. We are a part of your operation. Don’t you think we should be considered a priority alongside healthcare workers?’”
Medical work is a critical part of Rightway’s business. Since the pandemic hit, they have been transporting 1,000 COVID-19 tests per day for multiple customers, getting them to local labs or on planes to labs in Kansas City, Salt Lake City and Atlanta. They also pick up and deliver tests to 40 Walgreens on the weekends. It’s all an extension of their extensive work for hospitals, labs and clinics, which is a large part of their business.
Kaplan is on the board of the Customized Logistics and Delivery Association (CLDA), the trade association for last-mile carriers and drivers in North America. Since last December, the association has been reaching out to legislators and government officials to request that their workforces be designed as essential workers and therefore eligible to receive the vaccine on a priority basis. In the initial stages of the pandemic, CLDA’s efforts meant that this industry was declared essential so workers could go to their jobs when stay-at-home orders were in place. However, that hasn’t helped get their workforces access to the vaccine yet.
CLDA reached out to state health departments to put their drivers into the Phase 1b vaccination category. “We asked them to put us in the Phase 1b category as frontline essential workers or to move them up because of the medical importance of their services,” says Michael Taylor, CLDA government affairs director. “The Director of the CDC adopted the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that our workforce fit in Phase 1, but ultimately the decision of whether we fit into Phase 1b for frontline essential workers or in Phase 1c for other essential workers is in the hands of each state’s health department. The dialogue has been different depending upon the state. Several states have accepted our position. We urge all members to reach out to their customers on a local level to make things even more likely to happen.”
Kaplan advises other carriers that work in the healthcare environment to do what he did to get his people vaccinated. “My advice is to go ahead and do this on your own. If you’re working with a hospital, why wouldn’t you call? What do you have to lose? And what have you got to gain for your people?”