With COVID-19 Vaccines on the Horizon, Should Employers Encourage or Mandate Vaccination?

December 04, 2020

HR Policy members discussed the medical, legal and practical issues that come with vaccine distribution and employer-mandated vaccinations in a webinar led by CVS Health Executive Vice President and CHRO Lisa Bisaccia.

Preparing for a COVID-19 vaccination: Dr. Sree Chaguturu, Chief Medical Officer at CVS Caremark, outlined the medical approaches to vaccinations, the nine leading vaccine candidates, their timelines for approval, how federal investment allowed for manufacturing alongside clinical trials, and the challenges to distribution and administration (e.g., temperature controls, multiple doses).  

CDC panel recommends long-term care residents and health workers be vaccinated first:  With vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna currently going through the federal review process, a CDC panel has recommended a four-phase plan for vaccine distribution.  The CDC recommended essential workers, a group that amounts to 85 million people, as the second priority group followed by individuals with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of infection.  After that, all other adults will be eligible for vaccination. Both vaccines will require two separate doses.  It is estimated that about 20 million people will receive both doses by year's end between the two vaccines, with an additional 5 to 10 million doses available each week in the new year.  The vaccine is not expected to be approved for children under the age of 18 until 2022.

Should employers strongly encourage or mandate a vaccination program?  Kimberly Lawrence, Vice President, Labor and Employment Counsel at CVS Health, outlined the legal issues to consider when evaluating whether to establish a mandatory vaccination program.  Ms. Bisaccia and Johnna Torsone, Executive Vice President and CHRO, Pitney Bowes, weighed in on how to evaluate vaccination programs from an employer perspective.  The panelists agreed that whether strongly encouraging or mandating a vaccination program, employers need to provide consistent and clear communication to employees on their stance.  Click here for a full breakdown of the legal issues associated with requiring employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.  

Steps to take now: Roger King, Senior Labor and Employment Counsel, HR Policy Association, provided advice on three steps employers can take now:

  • Review any existing contagious disease plan; 

  • For unionized workplaces, start bargaining with unions now on vaccine policy rather than waiting for vaccines to be distribution-ready; and

  • Encourage employees to take care of their health and communicate the two-way responsibility between employers and employees in keeping the workplace safe. 

Outlook:  Providing education on the health benefits of vaccination is one of the most important steps employers can take.  Surveys demonstrate that trust in vaccines and COVID-19 guidelines is strongest when it comes from health care professionals and health agencies.  Employers should set an apolitical tone and use health professionals in their communications to employees on vaccinations and other public health measures.