Wilkes County’s largest employer is to be commended for stepping up and requiring that roughly all of it workforce nationwide be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

This one step by Tyson Foods Inc. will probably do more to increase Wilkes County’s shamefully low vaccination rate and ultimately save lives than all the lotteries, cash payments and other incentive efforts combined.

The company is taking a hard line, saying the vaccine requirement is needed to overcome persistent hesitancy to get the shots.

By offering all employees a $200 bonus for being fully vaccinated, Tyson is also expanding its existing policy of compensating workers for up to four hours of regular pay if they’re vaccinated outside of a normal shift or through an external source.

Despite the company’s extensive efforts, not quite half of Tyson’s U.S. workforce has been fully vaccinated. That’s still better than the vaccination rate of 34% for the entire Wilkes population.

Tyson said last week that about 5,400 of its employees have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 since the vaccination mandate was announced.

Enforcing this mandate might prove to be a great challenge and it certainly won’t make the company’s difficult task of finding the workforce it needs any easier. Tyson employs about 2,300 people in Wilkes County, mostly at the company’s chicken processing complex in Wilkesboro.

It’s notable that Tyson is requiring vaccination for employees at all levels. Most company vaccination mandates so far have only been for corporate and other office workers, thus strengthening a divide that’s emerging in the U.S. workforce.

Tyson’s decision to require vaccinations reflects how major U.S. companies are changing policies on vaccinations and masking as they see the Delta variant of the coronavirus drive a resurgence of cases. It’s something for folks still hesitant about being vaccinated against COVID-19 to consider.

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