COVID-19 vaccines are the main exit strategy out of the pandemic. To date, almost 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide with the US, the UK, and Israel leading the way, according to a New York Times tracker.
Although the world is far from out of the COVID-19 woods yet — especially given recent news about vaccine supply issues — discussions are starting to happen about the role that employers could play in the global vaccination rollout.
The role of the organization
One option being discussed is whether companies should require their employees to be vaccinated before they can return to the workplace.
A survey by the UK’s Chartered Management Institute found that over half of the 1,000 people surveyed thought that COVID-19 vaccinations should be required for staff to return to work.
There was also significant concern about navigating the potential conflict between those employees who are reluctant about being inoculated and others who feel unsafe working alongside unvaccinated colleagues.
However, there are multiple legal issues regarding implementing mandatory vaccination policies. For instance, if a company wanted to implement this for its existing employees, it would need to change all of their contracts and get them to resign.
As a result, even UK-based Pimlico Plumbers, which is one of the early advocates of mandatory vaccinations, has declared its policy will only be for new hires, not existing employees.
On the other side of the Atlantic, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dillon believes that a carrot and stick approach to COVID-19 vaccination is a better.
To this end, JP Morgan — and several other large banks including Bank of America — are giving their employees extra holiday days to get their jabs.
According to Reuters, Bank of America stated its staff would be able to take two half days because most of the approved vaccines require two doses spaced at least a month apart, while JP Morgan said its employees would be eligible to eight hours paid time off to be vaccinated.
Budget supermarket chains are also jumping on this incentive bandwagon. Lidl is offering its US employees $200 extra pay if they receive the vaccine; the payment aims to offset other costs associated with being vaccinated, including travel costs.
Whereas Aldi has said it will provide its hourly US workers with two hours of pay for each vaccine dose they receive, meaning they will essentially receive four hours of paid time off to be vaccinated. UK retailer John Lewis has also announced it will offer full pay to those who take time off work to be vaccinated, as well as encouraging its staff to volunteer to vaccinate others.
The UK’s Trades Union Congress — which recently called for regulation of AI in the workplace — has called on the UK Government to pressure companies to follow suit, as reported by the Guardian. The TUC’s demand is based on a survey of private-sector employers which found that less than half had been offered time off to attend their vaccination appointments.
TUC general sector Frances O’Grady said: “We all have a shared interest in getting everyone vaccinated as soon as possible. That’s how we make sure workplaces are safe. And it’s how we start rebuilding our country.”
COVID-19 vaccine management
The logistics of keeping track of all your employees and their vaccination status would be mind-bogglingly complex if done manually. But this is where technology comes in to optimize the process and protect both companies and their workforces.
“As the world begins to reopen, vaccine management solutions will play a vital role in helping companies manage a safe and efficient return to the workplace, while keeping employees healthy and happy,” notes ServiceNow vice-president of innovation Chris Pope.
To this end, ServiceNow has launched its own vaccine management solution: Vaccination Status. Pope explains that this application means companies can track the status of employee vaccinations.; “this kind of tool will enable businesses to analyze vaccination data and assess when it’s safe to reopen their premises. But more importantly, it will help employees feel safe, which after a tumultuous year proves a key aspect in encouraging staff back to the office.”
ServiceNow’s vaccine management solution has been integrated into its Safe Workplace HR tech suite. “By automating many of these processes, HR departments can focus on ensuring the safety of their employees, whilst employees can trust that sufficient steps are being taken to protect them”, concludes Pope.
HR tech provider Workday also launched a vaccine management solution. It did so in January 2021 as part of its Return to the Workplace tech stack.
Executive director of the office of CHRO solution marketing Barbry McGann explained that Workday’s vaccine management solution “gives HR leaders the necessary insight to help foster healthier workforces and safer workplaces.” The aim of the new offering is to ensure that employers have the insights to ensure the health and safety of their workers, as well as navigate a return to the office.
Workday’s vaccine management solution also enables companies to focus their employee outreach and pro-vaccination communications, and support those who are still waiting to be called for their vaccine, as well as those who are fully immunized.
Importantly, in doing so, Workday also ensures that companies can “securely manage the data and protect their employees’ privacy,” according to McGann.
The solution “puts HR in the driver’s seat with the tools to immediately assess outbreaks and to keep employees healthy and safe wherever they work and ensure business continuity– on-site or remotely at home,” concludes McGann.
There’s been plenty of chatter around the notion of establishing a vaccine passport system to enable people to move more freely. While this is a plausible solution, it’s also controversial. A recent TNW article highlighted how a digital COVID-19 vaccine passport could potentially deny people services due to algorithmic decisions.
On another note, tech giant IBM is also applying its Digital Health Pass solution to supporting opening up the workplace.
IBM’s product relies on blockchain technology to verify the vaccination or COVID-19 test credentials of employees before they enter the workplace.
By leveraging blockchain, IBM’s vaccine management solution prioritizes security and reduces the amount of information staff would have to share to provide their vaccination status to their employer. IBM did not respond to UNLEASH’s requests for further comments.
The Digital Health Pass is part of IBM Watson Works, which also includes the Return to Workplace Advisor product. This leverages data and analytics to advise and assist businesses in reopening their workplace in line with what is appropriate for their employees’ health.
Another company working on a vaccine passport focused on getting employees back to work is Virgin Pulse. Its product is called VP Passport and it combines COVID-19 symptom monitoring tools with an immunization certificate.
The aim is to enable companies to have better visibility about how and when they can open up their workforces safely. It also provides staff with reassurance that their workplace will be safe and healthy for them to return to. UNLEASH reached out to Virgin Pulse for comments.
VP Passport “not only empowers clients to effectively respond to the challenges of COVID-19, it allows them to take the first step in future-proofing their organization for whatever comes next,” writes Jordan Dunne, a member of Virgin Pulse’s marketing team in a blog post.
“We may be in uncharted waters, but we can all enjoy a little peace of mind while we navigate the next phase, together.,” added Dunne.