Courtesy of the AWB

Early in the pandemic, signs of encouragement started appearing on theater marquees, church message boards, front lawns, and living room windows.

“We’re in this together.” “You Are Not Alone.” “We Can Do This.”

These random signs offered hope and encouragement during a dark period when we didn’t know exactly how and when this would all end.

Now more than 14 months after Washington went into lockdown, we are looking ahead with optimism to the full reopening of the economy this summer and a return to something resembling normal life. And it’s largely thanks to the role of vaccines.

To stop this pandemic, we need to use every tool that’s available. We know that vaccines are one of the most effective tools we have to protect the health of our loved ones, end the pandemic, and fuel economic recovery. Since the rollout of the vaccines, the rates of new infection, hospitalization, and deaths have fallen throughout the country and here in Washington. The economy has shown signs of recovery as a result.

Employers have led at every step of this journey, from keeping stores stocked with essential items and retooling manufacturing plants to make PPE, to manufacturing and distributing safe and effective vaccines. Manufacturing innovation is leading us out of the pandemic.

One of the most important ways employers are continuing to lead is by encouraging as many people as possible to get vaccinated. Some of the more creative incentives have captured headlines, like Krispy Kreme giving away doughnuts to vaccinated customers and Budweiser offering to buy you a beer. Here in Washington, employers are also stepping up to provide incentives for their employees and the public to receive a vaccine.

The Association of Washington Business is working to get more people vaccinated by partnering with the state Department of Commerce and local chambers of commerce to distribute gift cards to those who receive a vaccine. By working with chambers in communities of every size, in every part of Washington, the effort will ensure that all Washingtonians have an opportunity to protect themselves and their loved ones.

It’s a win-win proposition, too. By working with local chambers of commerce, the effort not only incentivizes people to protect themselves and their loved ones, but it also helps the local economy as folks are encouraged to spend the gift card at a small business.

The economic damage caused by this pandemic is unlike any previous downturn. Some industries and sectors have weathered it relatively well or even grown, but other sectors — like restaurants, hospitality, travel, and manufacturing — have been hit especially hard.

The two most important things we can do right now to help small businesses that have been battered by the pandemic are this: Get a vaccine, and get out and support your local businesses. Getting a vaccine is truly a shot in the arm — for you and for the local economy.

The world has changed dramatically in the last year, but the messages in some of those early-pandemic signs are just as true now as they were then. We are not alone. We can do this. And we are still in this together.

Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.