BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Minnesota health officials have said they need to get creative when it comes to getting more people vaccinated.
On Wednesday, Governor Tim Walz kicked off a new campaign focused on workers in the food industry and he's hoping celebrity endorsements will help.
The outreach effort is to help drive employees to register for the Vaccine Connector. The state has partnered with industry leaders, employers, and influential restaurateurs and chefs – including native Minnesotan chef Andrew Zimmern.
"Any time the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s Office asks a Minnesotan to do something, I think it’s our obligation to do so," said Zimmern in an interview over Zoom.
Zimmern has been quietly working with Governor Walz for the past year. Now he's especially focused on combating vaccine hesitancy. A new study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg found 23% of people are hesitant to get the vaccine. That could hamper any attempt at herd immunity.
"By targeting specific groups and drawing awareness to it, people like me get to talk to people like you on networks like yours, right, and that's actually really really important," said Zimmern. "We can't contain, mitigate and move forward quickly and efficiently until everyone is vaccinated."
The pandemic also hit the food service industry hard. Governor Walz says 100,000 jobs were lost this past year, but about half that many have been recovered.
President Biden recently authorized about $28 billion dollars for restaurant operators who are now eligible for grants through the Small Business Administration. Zimmern says those grants, some for up to $10 million, will ensure the industry's future.
"The future for the restaurant industry, I think, long term is very good," said Zimmern. "I think short term is going to be very scary."
Gone are the days of just serving lunch and dinner, he says. Zimmern predicts every restaurant will continue offering delivery and to-go options, along with service charges instead of tips and creating more co-ops. He says it's also imperative to close gender and pay inequalities.
"Food people and restaurant people are the most creative business leaders in America," said Zimmern. "I think the golden age of restaurants is actually ahead of us, I just think it’s more like 2024 and beyond."
The food service workers can get vaccinated at the state's eight mass vaccination clinics from Mankato to Duluth to Minneapolis.
Some restaurant owners, like Blue Plate and Punch Pizza, are also holding private clinics and vaccinating hundreds of employees on site.