Previous surveys have shown that those in the construction industry are among the most hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. That hesitancy is now a cause for concern with workers in the industry as the Delta variant surges across the country.
A recent reader survey conducted by Construction Dive asked nearly 300 readers about their vaccination status. Only 2% of its readers that weren’t vaccinated in the spring now plan on getting vaccinated.
As Construction Dive notes, the survey tracked two different types of hesitancies among construction workers in regards to the vaccine. The first is the hesitation among the unvaccinated, who gave a variety of reasons for not wanting to receive the shots. The most common was “it hasn’t been tested enough,” followed by “it’s unnecessary.” Respondents commented that they're young enough to deal with COVID or aren't concerned because they mostly work outdoors where transmission rates are lower.
The second hesitancy is a growing concern among people who are anxious about working with unvaccinated coworkers. Around 60% of respondents said they’re worried about their health due to the unvaccinated, while 55% said they’re worried unvaccinated workers could impact their company’s success. This hesitancy likely affected attendance to the 2021 International Roofing Expo this month, where some companies decided against going due to health concerns.
"This was not an easy conclusion for us to reach, but when considering the current environment, the erratic impact of the COVID pandemic, and our primary priority to the health and safety of our entire community, it was the appropriate decision to make at this time," Polyglass stated in an email.
This concern is attributed to the Delta variant’s highly contagious nature. Even those who are vaccinated are able to carry and spread the virus to others, which caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recommend that all people wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
Delta is also causing what’s known as breakthrough cases, where vaccinated people become infected. Although rare, it is not as uncommon as experts originally thought with Delta. However, health experts still recommended getting the vaccine, as it prevents hospitalization and death due to the virus. Fully vaccinated people have made up as few as 0.1% to 5% of those hospitalized with the virus throughout the U.S.
McKay Daniels, COO of the National Roofing Contractors Association, told RC that he recovered from Delta over the summer.
“This Delta thing was real,” said Daniels. “I was vaccinated and was still down for about five days.”
Although the survey indicates a low vaccination rate among construction workers, it did show that 81% of respondents were at least partly vaccinated, up from 61% in the spring. The national average is 60.2% for at least one dose as of Aug. 20.
Vaccine Approval and Mandates
Hesitations on both sides could be alleviated soon. As of Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its approval of the Pfizer vaccine from emergency use to full approval. Other versions of the vaccine — Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — remain under emergency use authorization. Whether full FDA approvals will encourage unvaccinated individuals to get the shots remains to be seen.
“While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D.
Vaccine mandates may prompt more people to get the vaccine. It’s been determined that it is legal for roofing companies to issue vaccine requirements as a condition of employment, though legal experts in the roofing industry have previously suggested voluntary programs are the way to go.
President Joe Biden issued a mandate in July that federal workers, including federal contractors, will need to be vaccinated or be required to undergo regular testing. Businesses are starting to require vaccines for their employees as well, including McDonald’s, Amtrak and AT&T, so requirements in the construction industry may not be far behind.
“The reason most people in America don’t worry about polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, and rubella today is because of vaccines. It only makes sense to require a vaccine that stops the spread of COVID-19,” said Biden.
A Debate on Boosters
Construction Dive’s survey comes at a time where the Biden administration is discussing rolling out booster shots for those who are already vaccinated. Health officials say the booster shot can increase antibody levels, which would help those who are vaccinated stay protected for longer.
“COVID-19 vaccines are working very well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant,” stated the CDC’s website. “However, with the Delta variant, public health experts are starting to see reduced protection against mild and moderate disease. For that reason, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning for a booster shot so vaccinated people maintain protection over the coming months.”
The Biden administration is seeking to distribute booster shots beginning the week of Sept. 20, pending FDA approval. Fully vaccinated people are eligible for the booster following eight months after their second dose. Experts in the health industry have both encouraged the distribution of booster shots as well as expressed hesitancy on the need for them, suggesting that targeting the unvaccinated would have a greater effect on ending the pandemic.