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The world looks a lot different today compared to this time last year. In Fall 2020, Artemis wrote about how telemedicine was experiencing a pandemic-fueled boom, the growing need for a health equity strategy, and the experiences of one of our partners as a participant in Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine trials. Last year, we were full of hope for a safe, effective vaccine that could get us back to some type of normal. This year, we’re seeing the end in sight. The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the employee benefits space, and now we’re seeing a new frontier for benefits and HR teams: vaccine mandates.
Employers were eager to access vaccines and develop their own distribution clinics so they could get back to work, ramp up productivity, and protect their most precious resource, their workers. While vaccine clinics ended up being mostly run by local health departments and retail pharmacy partners, employers are still working to get everyone on their health plans vaccinated against COVID-19. It hasn’t been smooth sailing; while many Americans waited in long lines and competed for limited appointment times, some were more skeptical about a vaccine that was only authorized for emergency use.
With the Pfizer vaccine authorized for full FDA approval in late August, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still awaiting the FDA’s official nod. Businesses, however, are growing impatient with the unvaccinated in their employee populations, and they are eager to overcome hesitancy and minimize pandemic-related disruptions to their operations. We wrote about ways employers were tackling vaccine hesitancy earlier this year. The conversation has shifted from incentives to mandates.
In today’s blog post, we’ll highlight the ways employers are implementing vaccine requirements, convincing employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine, and moving to what we sincerely hope is a “post-pandemic” era.
Delta Airlines made the news recently with a $200 penalty on the health insurance premiums of any employees who chose not to take the COVID-19 vaccine. United Airlines took a more direct approach, initially telling staff that unvaccinated employees would be placed on unpaid leave. Now, with the vaccination deadline passed, United has begun terminating employees who did not comply or seek an exemption. They initially announced that over 600 of their roughly 67,000 thousand employees would be fired, but that number dropped overnight to just 320 employees. That represents less than half a percent of their workforce, and United has shown that vaccine requirements can motivate those experiencing hesitancy to move forward. Both Delta and United are requiring newly hired employees to receive the vaccine.
Other airlines may follow suit, but for now United is alone in the strict mandate. American Airlines has ended pandemic-era leave and job protections, and Southwest is awaiting further direction from the federal government before moving forward with a policy of their own.
Ford has said all employees who are traveling internationally on business will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, the United Auto Workers union has also reinstated a mask mandate for its members.
Tyson Foods will require all their employees to be vaccinated, with a deadline of November 1. This makes them the largest food company to require vaccines. Additionally, they’re offering a $200 incentive for each employee who receives the shot.
GE and Boeing have thus far announced that they will not require vaccines for their workers, though the Biden Administration’s upcoming OSHA rule requiring either vaccination or weekly testing for workers at companies with more than 100 employees may change this.
Google and Facebook have both announced that employees returning to their sprawling campuses must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination. While many tech companies have delayed plans to return to the office, others have expressed a willingness to embrace hybrid work or even permanent work-from-home policies. Unlike airlines and manufacturing companies, many tech firms are able to maintain performance with a fully remote workforce.
Cisco is taking a hybrid approach as well, vowing to make “The World’s Best Workplace the World’s Best Hybrid Workplace,” according to a recent memo. Their plan is to require in-person employees to be vaccinated, but allow others to work remotely.
Microsoft has thus far taken the strictest measures, announcing that all employees, vendors and guests must be vaccinated, while simultaneously delaying plans to reopen offices once again.
The cruise industry was one of the earliest hit by COVID-19 outbreaks, and as a result of the lost revenue coupled with federal and international requirements, many are requiring full vaccination for crew members and passengers both.
Local regulations in New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans have also forced restaurants to require vaccines for their employees. Union Square Hospitality Group, which operates restaurants in New York and Washington, D.C., is among the first to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“Beginning the day after Labor Day, we are going to require that 100 percent of our staff members be vaccinated and that any guest who wants to dine indoors will be vaccinated as well,” founder and CEO Danny Meyer told NBC News.
Federal regulations have moved the needle on healthcare workers’ vaccination rates. All workers at facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid dollars must receive the COVID-19 vaccine. While frontline healthcare workers were among the first to receive vaccines in December 2020 and January 2021, many are now seeking booster shots.
Retail pharmacy chain CVS is also requiring vaccines for patient-facing and corporate employees, though they have not yet extended this mandate to retail workers.
Interestingly, AstraZeneca and Pfizer, which both produce COVID-19 vaccines, are encouraging but not requiring in-office workers to get vaccinated, though both report high vaccination rates among their employee populations.
Each of these industries are facing their own unique work situations, employee health and risks, and approach to a changing COVID-19 landscape. While the Delta variant has fueled the update of new vaccine policies, there’s like a lot of change to come in the next few months. As we mentioned, OSHA is working alongside the Biden Administration to develop new rules for employers that require either vaccination or weekly testing of employees for companies with more than 100 employees.
It seems that measures like these are working to speed the pace of vaccination in the U.S. While we’re nowhere near the peak pace of 3.38 million shots per day in April 2021, news of the variant, employer requirements, and a push to vaccinate adolescents and hard to reach Americans has seen the pace rise back up to 1.5 million doses per day.
Benefits leaders are on the front lines of vaccine mandates and incentives at their organization. We hope seeing the plans and policies of others in their industries will help them make decisions about their own employee health and well-being.