The Delta variant ― a new, more transmissible form of COVID-19 that is causing more severe disease ― is spreading rapidly throughout the world and currently poses a threat mainly to the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated. The longer Delta circulates, the more chance for mutations and emergence of more contagious and dangerous variants that will cause further morbidity and mortality and decrease the effectiveness of vaccines and other drugs used to treat COVID-19. The currently deployed vaccines in the U.S. are still preventing severe disease from Delta; however, some manufacturers report there may be waning immunity from vaccines and are working to develop boosters. Public health and elected officials worldwide have escalated the call for people to get vaccinated.
In the U.S., 55% of the eligible population over age 12 has been partially vaccinated and 48% has been fully vaccinated; however, rates vary by region and many states. Southern states, in particular, have lower vaccination rates. The Delta variant is now one of the most prevalent strains in the U.S., causing spikes in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in states with lower vaccination rates.
What approaches have employers taken and how can they continue to boost vaccination rates?
Employers play an essential role in protecting the health of the public, their workforce, and the economy. The first decision point is around whether to require vaccination. Employers should then consider focusing on encouraging vaccination and removing barriers.
Approaches to Requiring Vaccination
Employers can require workers entering the workplace to be vaccinated against COVID-19 according to recent EEOC guidance (if an employee has a disability or religious belief, they may be entitled to an accommodation). Sectors that have moved toward mandating vaccines include healthcare and higher education (for students, faculty, and staff).
Some employers are still reluctant to mandate the vaccine while it is under FDA emergency use authorization. Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for full authorization and are awaiting FDA review/decision.
Approaches to Encouraging Vaccination
For employers who are not mandating the vaccine at present, education, access, and incentives can help to decrease vaccine hesitancy and promote vaccine confidence. It is critical to understand the rationale for hesitancy and provide accurate, information from CDC and other reputable sources in order to improve vaccine confidence and address concerns. To assess the need for interventions and target populations and messages, employers have performed anonymous surveys to estimate the percentage of their workforce vaccinated by geography, business unit/job function, and identify the main barriers to vaccination. The surveys may include questions regarding the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, concern regarding both side effects and long-term effects of the vaccine, and general anxiety regarding the vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy varies by ethnic and cultural group and communications tailored to specific populations and produced in languages representative of the workforce will be more effective. Holding town halls and bringing in experts to share information, using senior leaders and peers as visible champions of vaccination, and emphasizing there is no cost to vaccination may help to move people on the fence about vaccination.
Approaches for Improving Access
Providing on-site vaccinations, sharing information about how and where to get vaccinated, covering rides to and from vaccination sites, and giving employees time off to get vaccinated and also for vaccine side effects may further decrease barriers to vaccination. Options for employer partners for on-site and near-site vaccination include local health systems, national and local retail pharmacies, local health departments, and independent vaccine vendors. For global employees leveraging health plan and vendor partners, working with local public health authorities can be useful in increasing vaccination access and decreasing hesitancy.
Approaches for Incenting Vaccination
Employers are also using incentives to encourage vaccination, including cash, gift cards, and extra PTO days. Making employees aware of other incentives may also help to encourage vaccination, including state lotteries and freebies and giveaways that people can qualify for with their vaccination card. The ultimate incentive is that fully vaccinated people can safely resume many activities without social distancing or masks, depending on federal, state, and local regulations and workplace policies.
Are there additional considerations related to the potential “twindemic?”
With flu season rapidly approaching, the threat of a “twindemic” is real. To help keep our country and our economy open, as well as to protect their global employees, employers must act now to ensure their workforce is vaccinated against both COVID-19 and flu. Flu season begins in October and generally runs through May―so employers should be planning now for education, on-site vaccination if applicable, as well as vaccination incentives, if desired.
If you have any questions, please be sure to reach out to your Hays representative.
Please be advised that any and all information, comments, analysis, and/or recommendations set forth above relative to the possible impact of COVID-19 on potential insurance coverage or other policy implications are intended solely for informational purposes and should not be relied upon as legal or medical advice. As an insurance broker, we have no authority to make coverage decisions as that ability rests solely with the issuing carrier. Therefore, all claims should be submitted to the carrier for evaluation. The positions expressed herein are opinions only and are not to be construed as any form of guarantee or warranty. Finally, given the extremely dynamic and rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, comments above do not take into account any applicable pending or future legislation introduced with the intent to override, alter or amend current policy language.
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