March 2021

Key Tactics in Tackling Employee COVID Vaccination Challenges

Employers should take a leading role by becoming a trusted source of information, guidance and support with regards to COVID vaccination concerns and choices their employees make.  

This was the key takeaway discussed at NGS Global’s recent Asia Pacific client webinar titled Addressing COVID Vaccination Challenges with Employees. NGS Global are committed to bringing contemporary insights and informed perspectives to a range of human capital trends and topics. The webinar explored the core business imperatives of company vaccination strategies, as well as the health and safety aspects of each.

As global inoculation campaigns gather momentum, the session brought together a senior vaccine professional and an executive Human Resources practitioner to address a range of difficult and evolving issues around the intersection of companies and their role supporting their workforce and the broader community. 

Facilitated by Dr Marianne Broadbent, Managing Partner at NGS Global, the session featured two esteemed speakers: 

• Dr Suresh Jadhav, Executive Director of the Serum Institute of India. Based in Pune, India, the Serum Institute is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, and is currently producing the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford vaccine that is being supplied to several countries and is expected to produce Novovax vaccines once approved

• Leigh Stewart, Vice President of Human Resources for Amcor Asia Pacific. The company has 47,000 employees worldwide and is the global leader in packaging. Based in Singapore, Mr Stewart has led HR for a range of industrial organizations.

Situational Context

Dr Jadhav set the scene by giving some historical context to the situation currently faced by the human population across the planet, suggesting that pandemics are far from new, with several occurring in the last 20 years, including SARS and MERS. 

“What makes COVID so much more challenging is that it is far more infectious. But our response has also been totally unprecedented – there are currently no less than 366 companies and laboratories that are developing vaccines for the virus. In previous pandemics, perhaps between two and five companies were developing vaccines.”

Combined with the major advancements in vaccine technology created in the last two decades, Dr Jadhav explained, COVID vaccine progress has been extraordinarily rapid. Two vaccines have been approved for general use, another eight have been approved for emergency use, and there are another 30-40 vaccines undergoing clinical trials, with many of these expected to become available within the next 6-12 months. 


What Does this Mean for Employers?

Mr Stewart said that from an organizational perspective, this is an extremely complex issue that is evolving rapidly. 

“There are two distinct phases to this,” noted Mr Stewart. “The first phase is the one we are in now, with a big focus on government-led inoculation programs, and where there is more demand for vaccines than there is for supply. Limited availability creates scarcity and need; for a global organization like Amcor, that creates challenges.” 

The second phase, characterized by annual vaccination programs, booster shots, etc. could be even more complex for organizations. “This stage could be seen as involving employers much more, as they look to support employees as they navigate whether to get vaccinated, which vaccine, when, how, etc. These raise a multitude of complex issues, some of which go beyond the personal relationship between employers and employees.”

Mr Stewart says Amcor has already decided to not make the vaccines mandatory for staff. “Ultimately, whether to take the vaccine or not is a personal choice. We will not discriminate against anyone who chooses not to take the vaccine.” It may be though that for those travelling internationally, airlines or governments may require proof of vaccination. 

Mr Stewart also added that Amcor will play a critical role in the education and awareness of health advice for their employees around the importance of getting vaccinated. “Our staff are looking to senior leaders and HR as a source of information at the moment. If there is one good thing that has come out of this, it is that we have a high degree of engagement and dialogue with our workforce. It’s a great opportunity to educate as well as support.”

When Will Society Reach an Adequate Level of Inoculation? 

Dr Jadhav reminded the audience that the situation is very fluid, and of particular concern is the four mutated strains of the virus. Fortunately, early indications are that the approved vaccines are still efficacious against these mutations. 

“The shots that the world is currently administering appear to be about 85% effective for the UK variant, and 65% effective for the South African variant. Global regulators and the World Health Organization have determined vaccines that have at least 50% efficacy are adequate and should be licensed.”

According to Dr Jadhav, once 70-80% of the population is immunized, there is very little risk of people getting the transmission. This equates to the monumental task of immunizing about five billion people globally. Based on current supply chain manufacturing rates, this will take about three to four years. 

Key Advice for Employers

Mr Stewart echoed that this situation will be a marathon rather than a sprint, and there are so many unknowns that are still to play out, as well as issues employers won’t be able to control. It is also important for employers to have realistic expectations: the concept of having the whole office inoculated in a low-risk environment is unlikely.   

“Even if we mandate all our employees to be vaccinated, they will be moving about the community where not everyone is vaccinated. People will also receive different vaccines at different times. We are not healthcare providers, nor do we try to be, so we cannot take all these elements into account. 

“But this is precisely why we need to equip our leaders to support their teams within each context. To give sound advice and support to our staff, and engage with them proactively.” 

Mr Stewart added that employers should not make assumptions. They should aim to keep the dialogue with their workforce high and stay connected with their people on a systematic basis. 

“We are finding new and innovative ways to support people and continue operations, and will continue to do so.”

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