September 1, 2021
Just as many employers made plans to bring their employees back to the workplace and the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be loosening its grip on many areas, the Delta variant of the coronavirus has emerged in dramatic fashion.
The Delta variant has caused case counts to spike around the world and mask mandates to be reintroduced by some businesses and jurisdictions. There have even been new lockdowns in some areas, such as Australia, China and New Zealand.
While unvaccinated people are considered at greatest risk, the variant has led to a small number of “breakthrough” infections in vaccinated individuals, who can then transmit the virus to others. The rapid spread of the Delta variant underscores the need to hasten vaccination progress. It also speaks to the necessity of maintaining other COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
“Employers need to continue other programs indefinitely while we remain in this place called the partially vaccinated workforce,” says Dr. Neal Mills, chief medical officer at Aon.
“It’s going to be incredibly important to continue with your testing programs. Ventilation systems are going to be incredibly important, as well as making sure you stay in compliance with changing guidelines from government entities such as the Centers for Disease Control.”
WHY IT MATTERS
As the Delta variant spreads and raises the prospects of more or tighter COIVD-19 mitigation controls, a growing number of employers are mandating employee vaccinations, while others are taking steps to encourage employee vaccination.
Many colleges and universities are requiring vaccinations as well, while jurisdictions such as New York and San Francisco now require proof of vaccination for certain indoor activities.
Speeding the pace of vaccination worldwide is essential as each new COVID-19 infection is an opportunity for a new mutation of the virus, potentially resulting in strains better able to evade vaccines.
The mitigation measures required — along with the ability to return to full workplaces, theaters and the like — will vary by region. Employers should therefore be prepared to tailor their responses according to local conditions.
“It’s going to be largely dependent upon the infection rates and the vaccination rates in the local communities,” says Dr. Mills. “For example, in the U.S., there are some states that have fully vaccinated far less than half of their populations. In other places, they’re soaring above 68 percent of adults that are fully vaccinated.”
Employers can have an impact on those local vaccination rates, either by providing vaccinations directly or by sponsoring onsite or near-site clinics or education programs that emphasize the safe-ty and efficacy of the vaccines, Dr. Mills says.
Dealing With Variants and Future Surges
“We should prepare for the reality that there will be more surges in the future,” says Dr. Mills. “Keep in mind that the vaccine is not 100 percent effective against these new variants.”
Consequently, it’s essential that employers implement COVID-19 surveillance and testing programs that protect the partially vaccinated or unvaccinated in the workplace.
“The great news is the vaccines do appear to dramatically reduce the severity of symptoms and the mortality rate,” says Dr. Mills. “So, we need to encourage everyone to be fully vaccinated. But employers need to take vaccine rates into account and have surveillance programs in place to maintain the safest possible workplace.”
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