Seven vaccine priorities for employers to consider

Mercer offers top employee tips as the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines gains momentum locally.

The South African Covid-19 vaccine rollout programme is well under way, with the most recent announcement being that the 18 plus age group will be eligible to be vaccinated from 1 September 2021. With this in mind, Mercer highlights seven main priorities for employers to consider.

  • Preparing the employer’s role: Prioritise employee wellbeing and safety and consider the support employees will receive. Some examples of support that organisations can offer their staff: paid time off or paid sick leave to have time to recover from side effects. Also consider how customer-facing employees who do not want to be vaccinated will be managed. According to a study by Mercer, almost 50 percent of European, Middle Eastern and African companies will offer their staff time off to get vaccinated. However, 80 percent of companies think that people should use existing sick leave days to recover from side effects if they experience any. Organisations should set up steering committees made up of representatives from the HR, risk management, legal and communications departments to lead the planning and execution of a vaccination strategy. This will ensure that both the interest of employees and those of the business are catered to while ensuring that the strategy is successfully executed.

  • Prioritise health education: Reliable and up-to-date communication and education are crucial. A study by Mercer found that 60 percent of employers will encourage their employees to get vaccinated within the ambit of employment, labour and human rights legislation. While this is encouraging, more can be done to increase this figure.

  • Define your critical workforce: Mercer CEO Tamara Parker explains that this plays a significant role in determining business resilience and the success of a roll-out strategy. For example, a company may decide that those with children should be vaccinated first in an effort to protect their families, or they may decide that the client-facing employees should be first on the priority list.
    Focus on health equity: While employers can segment their workforce into different levels of priority when it comes to receiving the vaccine, everyone should have equal access to them.

  • Think about privacy: Employers may need to keep track of which employees have been vaccinated as this helps with decisions on employee safety such as returning to working in offices, travelling for business or physical interaction with customers. However, whether an employee has been vaccinated or not is personal information which should be respected. Employers should find creative ways of encouraging people to get vaccinated and ensuring that their personal data is protected.

  • Consider the un-vaccinated: According to Mercer’s study, 64 percent of employers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are not considering mandating the vaccine. Besides employment, labour and human rights legislation, not everyone may want or be able to get vaccinated due to personal or medical reasons, says Tamara. Employers will need to continue to put the necessary safety measures in place such as requiring people to socially distance themselves in the workplace, making it mandatory to wear masks and sanitise regularly, have their temperatures taken at work and also requiring people to work from home should they experience any symptoms.

  • Put mental health on the agenda: A physically and mentally healthy workforce is imperative. Last year, 70 percent of companies surveyed reported that they have implemented psychological counselling to help employees with stress and anxiety
    sychological counselling to help employees with stress and anxiety.