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Small businesses raise concerns over potential impacts of proposed vaccine mandates

Businesses can reach out to the Department of Health to set up vaccine clinics.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As the Biden administration hammers out its new policy on vaccine mandates, a growing number of small businesses are worried about what it might mean for them and their employees.

Local health departments are offering outreach teams to set up clinics to vaccinate workers and anyone else who wants the shot.

On Tuesday, there was an outreach event at the Northside Hospital medical office plaza in St. Petersburg.

“You know, I want to get ahead of this before it’s mandated. I think it’s good for my business,” said Brian Hannon, taking advantage of the opportunity. “You know, I want to be on site with clients and I think it’s probably just the right direction to go right now.”

The service is available for free, and could become more popular now, as the Biden administration moves toward mandating vaccinations — not just for health care workers — but businesses with 100 employees or more.

“Absolutely. Who knows what’s going to happen with the president’s mandate,” Northside Hospital Chief Medical Officer Tom Zweng said. “So, we are here to support our community and help those folks that want to get vaccinated.”

Ulyee Choe, the director of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County, adds: “And really any opportunity we can get to make that vaccine available to healthcare workers, to the business community, to our community at large, we will take that opportunity.”

The proposed mandate is being nervously watched by many small businesses that easily meet the 100-plus worker threshold.

“This is a massive amount of employers, small businesses, that are going to be impacted,” said Alfred Ortiz, President of Job Creators Network, an organization which advocates for small business interests.

Ortiz says he’s already hearing from small businesses owners who have questions about who will administer and verify the vaccines, provide or pay for testing. Not to mention a looming $14,000 fine per person for noncompliance and the threat of people quitting.

“If you take a typical restaurant, for example, two locations will have over 100 employees. Each restaurant, for example has about 65 employees. So, this is a real issue for many of the small businesses,” he said.

Proponents say in industries like health care, the mandate would be across-the-board, so the prospect of people leaving one job only to face the same vaccine mandate at another helps levels the playing field.

“No one wants to force someone to do something,” Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel said. “You’d prefer people do it voluntarily because they have been educated and it’s been made easy. But we’re beyond that point.”

If, in fact, the demand for vaccine grows as a result of mandates, demand for the outreach vaccine events might grow, as well.

Health workers say there are private companies out there ready to provide that service, but, for now, the Florida Department of Health is offering that same opportunity at no cost. And because they are administered by the state health department, the outreach pop-up clinics are open to the public. No appointment necessary.

Businesses interested in setting up an outreach event with the Florida Department of Health can visit: surveymonkey.com/r/PinellasVaccineEvent