The National Safety Council (NSC) released a report on Sept. 29, 2021, conducted as part of its SAFER initiative — a comprehensive effort aimed at helping employers prioritize workplace safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The report comprised data from surveys and interviews conducted between June and August 2021, with responses representative of 300 U.S.-based employers and 3,785 individuals.
Findings from the SAFER report, “A Year in Review, and What’s Next: COVID-19 Employer Approaches and Worker Experiences,” showed that employer vaccine requirements increased worker vaccination rates by 35 percent. Thus, workplaces can achieve a level of community immunity if employers consistently and unanimously apply vaccine requirements to their entire workforce. Moreover, vaccine requirements are well-received by a majority of the U.S. workforce and by consumers who prefer to enter businesses where workers are vaccinated.
“With so much attention on COVID-19 booster shots, let’s not lose sight of a key fact: 46 percent of the U.S. population has yet to achieve full vaccination status — which continues to compromise our collective safety,” said Lorraine Martin, NSC president and CEO. “The verdict is in: employer vaccine requirements work. NSC is focused on empowering businesses of all sizes to implement COVID-19 vaccination requirements in a way that supports vaccine equity, reduces health disparities and, ultimately, advances the nation’s progress on living safely with this virus.”
The highly transmissible Delta variant, now representing more than 99 percent of U.S. cases, further emphasizes the importance of achieving full vaccination status. Yet, the surveys fielded by NSC found that 13–15 percent of Americans who have received one shot of a two-dose vaccine don’t plan to pursue a second dose and become fully vaccinated. Of those fully vaccinated, 15 percent are unsure about or don’t plan to receive booster shots when they are eligible to do so.
Employers play a critical role in helping their workforce achieve and maintain full vaccination status. Moreover, their specific vaccine policies, incentives and accommodations can help to ensure vaccine equity, since research shows employment-related factors may contribute to higher COVID-19 rates and lower vaccination rates among people of color. People of color in the U.S. tend to have less paid time off from work and are less likely to have employer-provided health insurance. People of color are also more likely to work in frontline, essential worker positions, where they are more likely to be exposed to individuals infected with COVID-19. Surveys conducted by NSC found vaccine access disparities among a number of populations of focus. While 3.3 percent of the general workforce population reported they had or would have difficulty accessing the COVID-19 vaccine when they chose to do so, this number was 28.5 percent for immigrants, 18.5 percent for people with disabilities, and 13.7 percent for people of color, indicating that employer actions to increase vaccine accessibility will significantly help populations at highest risk.
These and other key findings from the report informed the development of recommended actions for employers for long-term COVID-19 safety practices. Recommendations include:
- Implement vaccination requirements for in-person work and require frequent, regular PCR testing of individuals who can’t or won’t get vaccinated.
- Reduce barriers to access and increase vaccine uptake through paid time off, transportation to vaccination sites or on-site vaccination at workplaces, multilingual vaccine information, and transparent communication about vaccine guidance.
- Encourage employee discussion around COVID-19 issues, such as boosters, variants and workplace safety guidelines.
- Reduce in-person work as able to minimize exposure opportunities.
“While it appears that COVID-19 may be here for the foreseeable future, our collective understanding of how to safely and effectively live and work amid pandemic conditions has grown by leaps and bounds,” said Martin. “Consistent with our mission, we will continue to provide organizations — no matter the size or industry sector — with the information needed to keep their employees and communities safe and healthy in the face of this once-in-a-generation crisis.”