When it comes to getting the vaccine, hardware stores don't make the cut. - CRHWA
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When it comes to getting the vaccine, hardware stores don’t make the cut.

Early last year, with Covid sweeping across the country, hardware stores were quickly brought onto the list of essential businesses that were allowed to remain open. As the country shut down, hardware stores quickly stepped into the familiar role of being a communal hub. Not just selling goods that allowed homes and businesses to remain safe and operational but also disseminating critical information.

Now, nearly a year later these same businesses find that they have been completely forgotten in regards to vaccine distribution plans. California like most other states is referring to the CDC list of recommendations in defining essential businesses and at what phase they should be eligible to receive vaccines. Hardware stores unlike garden centers and grocery stores are nowhere to be found. Without a category or classification, this leaves them at the bottom of the list. Below millions of others that perform less risky and less critical work.

Staffing a store during this past year has been difficult and stressful for everyone. We have all literally been putting our lives at risk to take care of our community and customers. It seems obvious to us that hardware stores should continue to be included as critical service providers and be placed in the same vaccine availability category as similar service sectors. More than likely this was an oversight.

Determining Essential

The CDC is very transparent about their guidance and reasoning in regards to allocation of a vaccine knowing that demand is going to exceed supply for some time. Phase 1 is broken down into three parts. Healthcare workers and residents of long term care facilities received first priority, Phase 1a. Phase 1b covers essential, frontline, non-healthcare workers and Phase 1c for workers in essential industries not covered by 1a or 1b. Once the vaccine supply allows and all members of Phase 1 have been covered Phase 2 begins, making the vaccine available to the general public.

Phase 1b, covers the much broader class of essential workers that are not directly involved in healthcare but still deserve priority because of the increased risk of exposure. These “frontline essential workers as the subset of essential workers likely at highest risk for work-related exposure”, “because their work-related duties must be performed on-site and involve being in close proximity (<6 feet) to the public or to coworkers.” Hardware stores should be included in this class. They share the same job characteristics, functions and risks present for garden centers and grocery stores, specifically included in this category.

The Discovery

As the vaccine started to roll out so did the lists. Allocation guidelines and affiliated businesses were made available online. The omission of hardware stores was noticed by employees and owners that checked these early notices online but appeared to receive little attention. The reality that hardware stores were not mentioned specifically, and thus put at the end of the list was viewed as insulting by many. Knowing others who had not put themselves at risk, who were not critical frontline workers but worked for a listed industry would be ahead in line did not sit well.

The San Francisco Chronicle published an article in early February which broke down what would be The City’s roll out of Phase 1b. This brought the inequity to light in front of a much broader audience. Based on the State guidelines, San Francisco’s plan also excluded hardware stores. Local hardware stores were upset. In response Jamie Gentner, COO of Center Hardware and Rick Karp, President of Cole Hardware decided to write to Mayor London Breed and the Director of Health, Dr. Grant Colfax on behalf of over twenty hardware stores in San Francisco. The letter argued that hardware stores contributed significantly to the health and safety of the community along with many other essential workers in different industries and are now unfairly excluded in their classification for vaccine distribution. And in light of the risk and services performed, hardware stores should be included with similar essential retail businesses.

As of the writing of this post there has been no official response from either the Mayor or the Director of Health. There has been some “unofficial” response which indicated the City has its hands tied and has to follow Sacramento’s lead. However, it is unclear if this is in fact the case.

The Oversight

We contacted the CDC in response to this oversight. Our concerns were heard and recorded but without any definitive results. We were advised that the best course of action was to bring our concerns to the responsible agencies in our particular state. This prompted us to contact the Governor’s Office which then directed us to the Community Vaccine Advisory Commitee.

California established the Community Vaccine Advisory Committee to provide “guidance for the prioritization and allocation” of a vaccine and “to ensure the vaccine is distributed and allocated equitably” while it is in short supply. It is composed of many member organizations in an attempt to represent the many diverse communities throughout California. It is heavily weighted towards the medical community and only a few members include the retail workforce. Chances are the importance, role and risk of retail hardware stores probably never even came up during planning sessions. Hardware stores were overlooked.

National Inaction

Although, this is an issue that affects hardware stores nationally, it is receiving little attention. The NHPA (North American Hardware and Paint Association) has weighed in with a statement signed by industry leaders ( including, Ace Hardware Co., Do It Best Corp., Orgill, Inc. and True Value Co.) and distributed to the Governors in all states but it is unclear what effect if any it has had on policy. The National Retail Federation (NRF) has also called for retailers to be prioritized. The big boxes appear to be keeping quiet. Perhaps this is because the issue is not without controversy. It could also be due to the fact most already qualify for early tiers as either a pharmacy, grocery or agricultural classification. Or maybe it is something else.

We spent a morning visiting a host of national retailers in our area just to see first hand what actual frontline employees had to say about vaccinations. Everyone we spoke to had yet to receive a vaccination, which isn’t surprising as only a few counties have moved out of the first tier. What was more illuminating was the confusion surrounding eligibility. It was obvious, vaccinations were either not discussed with employees or only loosely covered by these large retailers. The issue did not appear to be a priority.

Take Action

Hardware store workers should be included in tier 1b for early vaccinations. The work and industry clearly meet the CDC’s own definition of frontline essential employees and as such should be included with others that share the same status. Whether you are more concerned with the health and well being of your employees or just worried about the havoc a case of Covid would bring to the workplace giving your staff a choice to vaccinate as soon as possible makes sense. Here in California we have a good chance to correct this issue by bringing it to the attention of the CVAC (Community Vaccine Advisory Committee).

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