Corporate World’s role in battling the pandemic

The following writeup came from a lengthy thread on Twitter by Andy Slavitt, former Biden White House Sr Advisor for COVID Response, past head of Medicare/Medicaid for Obama. We thought this was worth sharing here.

COVID Update: With requirements rolling across the country, I called a company that implemented vaccine requirements last month. Here is the experience & lessons for the rest of us.

Background first. The company is based in the Midwest with 6000 people. The workforce has salaried, factory workers and service center workers. Their starting point was 70% of the staff vaccinated.

The CEO announced that by 10/1 everyone needed to be vaccinated. The first reaction was a 10% reduction in their employee satisfaction surveys— the first reduction in the history of the company.

Some people were quite upset. So the CEO began to try to understand people’s reasons for being unvaccinated & their objections.He asked trusted people in the company (but never a person’s boss) to call and offer to consult with people who were unvaccinated about the decision.

Themes emerged about why & 90% of the time, the reasons were NOT a strongly held concern about the vaccine. The most common answers people gave:

  • “It was inconvenient”
  • “I’ve been on the fence”
  • “I’m young/not at risk/have had COVID”

One of the most common was:

  • “Other people were getting vaccinated so I didn’t feel like I needed to”

As we crept into September, the percentage of people vaccinated climbed from 70% to where they are today— 95%.

The vast majority of people needed a nudge & got vaccinated without protest. A lot of feedback was they felt good about the decision. The remaining 5% of the company gave a single word most commonly for why they say they won’t get vaccinated.

“Freedom”— the 5% don’t want to be coerced into putting something in their bodies. They expressed few concerns about vaccines or side effects. The CEO talked to the company explicitly about one of their company values.

“None of us individually are more important than all of us.”

He told people that he didn’t want to lose them, but that if they weren’t in alignment over this, they were free to find a new employer. He relayed a conversation he had with 1 person who said they didn’t believe the risk of a side effect was high, but that he wanted to make the choice himself on principal. He seemed to understand why the company was making the decision it was. And the company in return was completely understanding that the person would need to look for new work as a consequence of his decision not to be vaccinated. And that’s what he will be doing.

The CEO told me he has too many employees with kids who have had cancer & have elderly parents at home to respect the concern every individual over all the people in forced difficult situations. Not a close call.

As it stands today, the company may lose as many as 300 people. People who have put years and blood & sweat into building this company (which has invented technologies to prevent cancer).

The CEO desperately hopes many more come on board before the end of the month. He has asked for my help in communicating to people about the virus along the way & again today. Here’s what I glean from this situation and other things I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Requiring a COVID vaccine falls into the same category as many things we ask of people at work— take a drug test, stay home when you’re sick, don’t harass other people. This policy has plenty of precedent & is quite reasonable.
  2. All changes are disruptive and need to be explained to people. Start with the “why” not the “what” or “how.” It’s ok to be firm about a strongly held belief, rooted in your values, even if others don’t agree. Many people simply don’t care very much and will get vaccinated— maybe the majority. They have logistical concerns— time off, transportation, etc. Make it easy.
  3. Be willing to listen & talk to people 1:1 if need be. Make them feel heard. Ask them who they trust for information. Get reliable information to them through those sources when possible. Provide the source for answers to their questions.
  4. You will not get everybody. That’s impossible. It is possible to treat everyone respectfully and make every effort to provide them information to make an informed decision.
  5. This is not a popularity contest. Some people are going to be unhappy. Other people are going to be able to live. These are called decisions and not making them is making them in favor of fear of the loudest voice. Don’t do that. People who are deeply entrenched in not getting the shot often state that they don’t know anyone or many who are getting the shot. The echo chamber has an impact.
  6. If you know someone who isn’t vaccinated, it’s a pain, but talk to them. Do it because you care about them. There is someone we know who wanted to get vaccinated but his wife was opposed. We have been trying to persuade him. He was afraid of the marital strife. He’s now hospitalized. He got it from her. The investment in time & effort to understand his issues & concerns felt really idiosyncratic. At the time I wondered if talking to him was worth the effort. If he wasn’t in the situation he’s in now, I’d be less likely to say it makes sense to have this meddling convo.

It can all be so exhausting. But vaccines without vaccinations is going to land us where we are— an embarrassment of resources & the world’s ongoing hot spot.

Lose a friendship. Lose an employee. Lose some popularity.

Life will have losses. But be willing to lose a lot of things before being willing to lose lives that we don’t have to lose.

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