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Trend: Employers Leading the Way to Vaccine Mandates

Many employers have encouraged their employees to get vaccinated, offering incentives and even some punitive measures. The number of employers mandating vaccination remains low, but is ticking upward.

A person sitting in the driver's seat of their car receiving a vaccination.
Harford County resident Shane Reynolds, right, of Jarrettsville, receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot from nurse Rhonda Thomas.
Kenneth K. Lam
The highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19 and the increased numbers of children being hospitalized with the variant have led to an increased trend of employers encouraging their employees to get vaccinated.

And although that trend is on the upswing, the number of employers mandating vaccination is still low. Those were the takeaways from the latest Infectious Diseases Society of America briefing with three experts in the field.

About 19 percent of employers across the workforce are mandating that their employees get vaccinated. That’s up from about 2 percent when vaccines first became available, but for the most part, many of those employers are in the health-care field.

But there has been movement of employers to take action toward combating the virus, which includes vaccination, in recent months, according to Dr. Alexander Alonzo, chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“There has been a real transition across the employment community from really not knowing what to do about vaccination and how to treat vaccination to encouraging vaccination strongly, and we’re still on the path toward mandating vaccination,” Alonzo said. “We need to encourage that further.”

The advent of the delta variant at the time when school children were finally getting back into physical classrooms had a big impact on the movement of employers to push toward vaccination.

“There was a watershed moment, the combination of the delta variant and its prevalence and children returning to school in person,” Alonzo said. “What we saw over the course of the summer was not only did we go up to 19 percent of employers [mandating vaccination], we saw the workforce respond.”

He cited a study that suggested that about 63 percent of the workforce feel positive about employers mandating vaccination. “We’re seeing a dramatic rise in terms of the workforce seeking protection, not only for themselves but for their families,” Alonzo said.

Delta Air Lines has strongly encouraged its employees to get vaccinated, first providing incentives and now, coming in November, what many will see as punitive action for those who elect not to get vaccinated.

Dr. Henry Ting, senior vice president and chief health officer of Global Health and Wellbeing at Delta, said the company has undergone many changes since the early days of the pandemic, including requiring masking, social distancing, improving air quality on planes and in airports, increased sanitation, and offering testing.

Delta is encouraging vaccination but not yet mandating it.

“Our approach has been that this is a marathon, and we realize there is not a rush to any finish line,” Ting said. “This is a long game. We’ve implemented initiatives and programs to strongly encourage our employees to get vaccinated through multiple steps aligned with our core values.”

That includes listening to employees and customers, and providing them with education on the efficacy of the vaccines, while moving toward the ultimate goal of vaccination. Delta, with help from partnerships with CVS, the Mayo Clinic and Emory Healthcare, set up clinics at its various locations where employees could get vaccinated on their breaks.

Delta has offered a lottery of sorts, providing eligibility for those getting vaccinated to win a million dollars. But come November, unvaccinated employees will see a surcharge in their health care.

Ting said education and information are critical to Delta’s goal of vaccinating its employees. “Many [of the unvaccinated] are scared, have misinformation, and yes, a small portion may choose to never get the vaccine, but a large percentage of that are people on the fence who are waiting to make a decision on their own timeline and are still gathering information.”

Dr. Helen "Keipp" Talbot, associate professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Vanderbilt University, said the vaccines are still highly effective in preventing breakthrough infections, thus limiting hospitalization and death. But she added that, unfortunately, the variant has resulted in unvaccinated children [who are not yet eligible for vaccination], and adolescents [who may choose not to get vaccinated] being hospitalized at levels not seen before.

“It’s important to remember that we can prevent these hospitalizations and protect those not able to be vaccinated,” Talbot said. “It’s important to be vaccinated, not just to protect yourself, but those in the community who are immunocompromised and those who can’t get the vaccine.”

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