Low Kiang Wei, medical director, International SOS, details the steps companies should adopt when crafting a vaccination policy, and explains why they are necessary to facilitate a safe and efficient resumption of travel
With Singaporeâ€™s Covid-19 vaccination campaign well underway, many of us have started wondering when we might travel again â€“ for business or leisure.
Real-world data has shown that herd immunity is a distinct possibility in the near future and we may see large-scale events or business trips back on the calendar soon. Governments and authorities worldwide have already started planning for the resumption of travel, with adjustments in quarantine requirements and other border restrictions.
For example, Israel has announced deals with Cyprus and Greece to allow fully vaccinated citizens to travel within these countries without limitations, once flights resume. We are likely to see similar arrangements in Asia soon, which will require organisations to relook their corporate travel policies.
However, there are many steps before we get back to business as usual â€“ and one key factor right now would be achieving herd immunity through vaccine uptake. Organisations can play a critical role in supporting the national immunisation campaign, and accelerating our progress in achieving herd immunity, by developing a corporate vaccination policy that supports employees and communities at large, and builds workforce resilience even beyond this pandemic.
With vaccine rollout plans drastically varying per country, how can organisations build a vaccination policy that is within their control, and addresses future business needs?
Here are four steps to get started on developing a robust and resilient vaccination policy:
1. Define your objective
Each countryâ€™s vaccine rollout plan differs and impacts the corporate vaccination policy. For example, in Singapore where the vaccine rollout is largely driven by the public healthcare system â€“ the role of the business would be to support the national agenda and encourage employees to get the vaccine. In other countries, for example in Indonesia, private sector organisations may obtain and administer vaccines for their workforce.
2. Assess the threats
A vaccination policy provides evidence-based guidance to ensure three critical outcomes: consistency, accountability and efficiency. This ensures that the entire workforce is treated fairly, has ready access to vaccines, and takes into account the health, safety and wellbeing of each individual.
To achieve this, organisations need to take a holistic view of their operations and assess the various health and security threats that their workforce is exposed to, This will depend on the nature of your work and daily operations â€“ some industries like aviation and healthcare will have far greater exposure to Covid-19 transmission, and require a more granular approach.
In an ever-evolving pandemic, having access to accurate intelligence is key to ensuring quality and consistency in your vaccination policy. With specific vaccine intelligence interrogated by a medical professional, organisations can uncover threats, risks and trends specific to their business, and make informed decisions on how this affects their policy.
This also ensures that your vaccination policy is based on country-specific information, government regulations and employee population.
3. Communicate openly and regularly
As with all organisational changes, communicate transparently and regularly with your employees. After disseminating the information to your workforce, constantly engage with them to uncover developing challenges, risks and goals which will arise at different stages of the immunisation campaign. It is important to be entirely transparent with your workforce and offer various channels for communication.
Education is also critical for employees to make informed decisions on their health and wellbeing. Proactively conducting educational webinars or engaging with health experts to answer common questions that employees may have will instil confidence and trust so that employees can share their concerns or hesitations, and encourage vaccine uptake. Employers should also be sensitive in delivering these messages, so that employees feel heard and understood.
4. Ready access, reporting and re-evaluating
Where possible, ensure easy access to vaccines through company-wide vaccine drives, or arrangements with healthcare providers can provide the needed push for employees to get vaccinated. In regions where vaccination is predominantly a public health initiative and vaccine supplies are controlled by the government, allocating time off work for vaccination appointments and making financial and leave provisions for possible vaccination-related side effects can go a long way towards resolving logistical and non-medical barriers.
However, companies must be careful to balance between encouraging, and mandating vaccine uptake. Vaccinations are a largely personal issue, and employees may refuse to take the vaccine for medical, religious, or other reasons â€“ and such cases should be treated with empathy and fairness.
As part of the process, companies will need to monitor their vaccination programmeâ€™s progress, successes and challenges to make accommodations and changes to overall business operations. Notable challenges can then be proactively managed and brought back on course to ensure that employees remain protected from Covid-19 and other health threats, while organisations can uphold their Duty of Care.
A successful vaccination programme is flexible, and continually evolving to adjust and account for changes in the global situation. Ultimately, companies must ensure a safe and inclusive working environment for all, for long-term workforce and business resilience.