ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
As the pandemic drags on, something is becoming increasingly clear - when faced with the option of losing their jobs, even the most hesitant people are getting vaccinated. Vaccination rates are topping 90% in places where workers don't have a choice. NPR's Andrea Hsu reports on the forces making that happen.
ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: If you've traveled through San Francisco on United Airlines, there's a chance you've met Margaret Applegate.
MARGARET APPLEGATE: I'm a customer service agent in San Francisco, 29 years.
HSU: It's a job she loves, even though airline passengers can be a handful. Early in the pandemic, she was happy about everything her company was doing to keep people safe. United even partnered with Clorox to up their cleaning game.
APPLEGATE: So I was feeling very proud of it. And then the minute that they mandated, I didn't feel that proud.
HSU: She's talking about August 6, the day United announced its vaccine mandate. Her employer of 29 years was suddenly telling her, get vaccinated or goodbye. Applegate, who's 57, had not gotten the shots. Like many people, she was scared - scared she'd have a bad reaction because of her heart condition, scared at how fast the vaccines had been developed and authorized for use.
APPLEGATE: I thought that was a little bit too rushed. It just felt too rushed.
HSU: Other things weighed on her, too. She had coworkers who had gotten sick. Someone in her own department died from COVID.
APPLEGATE: He was well-known and well-liked and everything. And of course, that hit very close to home.
HSU: She wrestled with the decision, trying to make sense of what was most important, what was right for her. Finally, with United's deadline approaching, Applegate made an appointment to get the Johnson & Johnson shot. The technology, she reasoned, had been around longer than the mRNA technology behind the other vaccines. Even then, she remained highly conflicted. She talked to her doctor, her children and the day before her appointment, her big boss - the head of United at San Francisco airport.
APPLEGATE: She's just such a motherly person. She's very nurturing.
HSU: And she did what a mother would do. She offered to accompany Applegate to her appointment.
APPLEGATE: To come with me to get the shot - yes. When she offered, I could not really say no because I thought, wow, what manager does that? She actually, genuinely cared.
HSU: And so last month, Margaret Applegate became one of the 99.5%. That's how much of United's workforce has gotten vaccinated, not including the couple thousand who applied for exemptions. Other employers with mandates are reporting success as well. Tyson Foods, New York City schools, major hospital systems in Maine and the NBA, all topping 90% vaccinated. Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins reluctantly gave in after being denied a religious exemption.
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ANDREW WIGGINS: I feel like the only option was to get vaccinated or not play in the NBA (laughter).
HSU: Even in places where there is not yet a vaccine requirement, just the anticipation of one seems to be having an effect. Andre Bastian works as a federal contractor guarding a government building in Washington, D.C. After a slow start and lots of opposition, almost all of his coworkers are now vaccinated ahead of a December deadline.
ANDRE BASTIAN: What it really comes down to is money.
HSU: Bastian, a former Marine, says private security pays well. It's a job you don't want to lose, and that makes all the difference.
BASTIAN: People in a higher-salary job are like, yeah, OK, I'll just bite the bullet and do it.
HSU: At United, Margaret Applegate is relieved to have the decision behind her. She is loved by customers who give her rave reviews. She wasn't ready to quit her job.
APPLEGATE: I was planning on still going strong maybe even at 70, if I can.
HSU: As long as health permits, she says. And with the COVID vaccine, she has another layer of protection.
Andrea Hsu, NPR News.
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