Start Early applauds Governor J.B. Pritzker for issuing Executive Order 2021-28, which requires all staff working in child care settings licensed by the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. We thank the governor and his administration for recognizing the need to protect this essential workforce and the children and families in their care. This policy will bring immunization requirements for staff at child care centers into alignment with those of Early Head Start and Head Start providers, as well as K-12 educators, who are already required to receive the vaccine.
Throughout the pandemic, Start Early advocated to make sure the early childhood workforce was prioritized as part of the state’s vaccine rollout, along with other educators and essential workers. Then when the vaccine rollout began, Start Early and our advocate partners in early childhood and public health have spent many months engaging diverse stakeholders in a coordinated “trusted messenger” campaign to increase vaccination rates among providers. After reviewing results from surveys and focus groups to better understand the concerns of providers, we focused our efforts on synthesizing and improving accessibility of information on the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as providing opportunities to have non-judgmental conversations with trusted health experts about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
As a direct service provider, Start Early followed a similar approach with our own staff. As soon as the vaccine was made available, we pursued partnerships to assist staff in accessing education related to the vaccine, as well as the vaccine itself. We looked to the expertise of organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management, The Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for guidance and adjusted our approach as new information became available. Following guidance from the EEOC, we began providing incentives to get vaccinated over the summer. With this patient, persistent, and respectful approach, we reached a voluntary vaccine rate of over 80%. When we later announced our own vaccine mandate in September, this high rate of voluntary vaccination allowed us to focus individual attention on those who were not yet vaccinated. This allowed us to reach our goal of full compliance with our mandate without any staff terminations. With the dates announced by the Governor, it is not too late for other providers to follow a similar approach. Both broad and individualized outreach, education, and access are key ingredients to achieving our shared goal of the highest possible vaccination rates across our field.