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Mandating COVID Shots – Part II

There is a major new development that may impact the number of employers mandating COVID-19 vaccinations. Just this Monday (August 23), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for individuals, ages 16 years and older. Prior to this, the vaccine was available under emergency use only, which is still the case for individuals, ages 12 through 15, and for “the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.”

This full approval cannot come soon enough. According to the Iowa Capital Dispatch, about 2,200 new COVID-19 cases are occurring each day in Iowa. A recent study published in Health Affairs found that COVID-19 vaccines prevented nearly 140,000 deaths during the first five months of the vaccine campaign. This number is approximately the size of Cedar Rapids. Finally, a Kaiser Family Foundation research brief published last week reveals that about 113,000 Americans could have avoided being hospitalized in June and July if they had received the COVID vaccine – which amounted to an estimated cost of $2.3 billion.

For individuals and employers on the fence about whether to obtain (or mandate) vaccinations, this latest move by the FDA signals that the (Pfizer) vaccine was determined to be both safe and effective – far outweighing the potential risks. The two shots together were found to be 91 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 and potentially serious outcomes, including hospitalization and death. The full approval by the FDA provides a stronger, fortified reason for employers to consider implementing – if desired – a vaccine mandate at the workplace.

New Reports that may Help Employers

I must give a big thanks to the May 20 podcast of Tradeoffs that addressed the employer mandate issue. This particular episode provides much of the background information that I am about to share on WHY employers might seriously consider mandating vaccine shots to their employees.

  1. Requiring Vaccines Actually Works

    Many studies show that, by mandating vaccinations at work – such as the flu shot – more people get vaccinated. Nursing homes and other healthcare settings (hospitals included) spell this out. For employers in other sectors, having more workers vaccinated will translate to having a safer work environment that results in fewer sick days and a smaller probability of new virus strains developing.

  2. Vaccines Reduce Community Spread

    According to a new study in The Journal of Human Resources by Corey White, a Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo health economist, California hospitals and counties that implemented influenza vaccine mandates for their employees found there was an uptick of flu shots by about 10 percentage points. But just as importantly, there was a 40 percent drop in the number of patients who caught the flu at the hospital, in addition to a 20 percent drop in people coming into the hospital with the flu. White calls this a ‘positive externality’ benefit, as it benefits not only the person getting the vaccine, but also reduces the risk of spreading the disease to others. It must be noted this may not be a perfect generalized finding for non-medical employers, but it does suggest that any employer, regardless of size and industry, may greatly impact their own community with such a mandate. This is especially true if many customers visit popular businesses throughout the community – such as restaurants and grocery stores.

    We also know that because COVID has become more politicized than the flu, mandating COVID shots may elicit a stronger response from employees than a simple flu mandate.

  1. Provide Exemptions, But Stay Vigilant About Asking Employees

    Brandyn Churchill, a Vanderbilt PhD candidate, released a study that found an 11 percent increase in the number of Washington D.C. school girls receiving the HPV vaccine by allowing parents to make the decision once a year, rather than only asking one time. The study suggests that employers, who may be concerned with employee backlash, can provide ‘generous exemptions’ to their mandates – such as for medical reasons or religious objections – but still increase vaccination rates if they repeatedly approach their employees about getting vaccinated. According to Churchill, how opt-outs are designed can actually lead more employees to getting vaccinated. From his study, it is unknown whether the uptick resulted from the HPV vaccine becoming more normalized during a period of time and therefore more accepted by parents, or because parents were asked more frequently to vaccinate their daughters. Churchill believes both reasons helped push the vaccination rate upwards. The takeaway from this study is that vaccine-hesitant people should be given plenty of opportunities and have options that are based on credible and relevant information. Over time, the vaccination rates will rise.

Final Thoughts…

It is true that in the new world in which we live, COVID is a wild-card on how employees will accept a workplace vaccination mandate. Will our ‘liberties’ be lost, or will we finally gain our freedom from this pandemic? Because the information on COVID-19 is so imperfect and ever-evolving, the delicate balance of providing caveats and caution must be used by employers to ensure that trust is built and maintained for a more informed workforce. The full approval by the FDA for the Pfizer vaccine is a good step toward increasing the vaccination rate. Hopefully, when thorough and appropriate analysis has been completed on the other two vaccines, additional approvals will be forthcoming.

From this, we can all benefit.

NOTE: For additional background on this topic, please see my August 4 blog, Can Employers Mandate COVID Shots?

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Comments

  1. ANDREW N WILLIAMS says

    An excellent, well-reasoned discussion of the facts.
    Thank you.

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