Vaccine Hesitation

When Dr. Raul Pino, director of Florida’s Orange County Health Department, was recently put on administrative leave for encouraging his employees to get vaccinated, I was shocked but not surprised.

And I could certainly empathize with his frustration that only 77 of his 568 employees were fully vaccinated with booster shots.  I faced the same problem with my staff of 83 at Sunrise Ford. Although the numbers at the dealership were better than the Orange County Health Department, more than 30 percent of my employees refused to be vaccinated.

The situation baffled me.  The employees knew I had to be in lockdown for nearly a year because of continuing cancer treatments to keep my beast cancer in remission. My husband, Mike Wetzel, who helped me run the dealership, also had to be extremely careful, fearful he could bring COVID home. My oncologist initially cut back my treatments because she was so worried if I was infected with COVID, it could be fatal.

When the vaccines were readily available, I was thrilled to be back at work.  But that euphoria quickly dissipated when I realized I had so many anti-vaxxers on the payroll.  I tried everything to change their minds — extra  paid vacation time, paid sick leave should they be forced to quarantine, and paid time off should they have a reaction to the shot.

I met personally with each of them to try to debunk some of their crazy excuses. Their reasons varied. ‘’I am scared to death of shots.”  ‘’I never had a cold so no way I could get COVID.” ‘’My wife is breast feeding and we want another child.’’ And my personal favorite.  ‘’No one is going to tell me what to do.”’

I pleaded and cajoled.  I pointed out others at the dealership had serious  health issues. A body shop technician was in the midst of chemotherapy. A sales representative had just recovered from open heart surgery.  Several had diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Even after their fellow employees came down with COVID, one requiring a lengthy hospital stay and another suffering from long haul COVID, the anti-vaxxers remained steadfast.

I then tried not so subtle threats. At the time, I could fire anyone refusing the vaccine. The weekly memos suggesting that I might resort to that did not work, probably because most knew I would have to close the business down because so many would be terminated.

Dr. Pino called his department’s anti-vax stand “pathetic.’’ I know how he feels. I said much worse about my predicament

The whole situation finally  wore me down. Last June I decided to sell the dealership that had been in the family 90 years. The sale was finalized October 4. Mike and I had mixed feelings about giving up a successful business that we had run for more than 30 years.  And we felt badly for the employees who had been so loyal, some working there for decades.

But in the long run we knew we made the right decision. We set up The Tierney & Wetzel Foundation to carry on Sunrise Ford’s legacy of gIving back to the community which was so supportive of the dealership.

I hope Dr. Pino hangs in there. It was ridiculous for the state to suspend him for trying to protect the health of his employees and the residents of Orange County. Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration continue to undermine the efforts of Dr. Pino and other public servants who are just trying do their jobs.

I have seen firsthand how politics has caused so many to make the wrong decision when it comes to COVID vaccines.  Dr. Pino was right. It is pathetic.

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