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Early evidence suggests US employers could convince holdouts to get their vaccine

Ely Herrera, a health worker, injects a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine during a mass vaccination programme
Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez/
A new push for vaccination.
  • Michelle Cheng
By Michelle Cheng

Reporter based in New York

Published Last updated

The nudge to get tens of millions of people vaccinated with free food and cash incentives has not worked out. Nearly 80 million Americans have yet to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, so US president Joe Biden is turning up the pressure by issuing mandates through corporate employers.

Last week, Biden announced an emergency rule requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week. The new Department of Labor mandate impacts at least 80 million US workers. The agency will also require companies to give paid time off so workers can get the shots.

While the new requirement has prompted some backlash among conservatives and labor unions, vaccination rates have seen a hike after vaccine mandates from organizations were set.

Since the military announced last month that activity-duty military personnel will be required to be vaccinated, the share of service members with at least one shot has risen from 76% to 83%, according to US Department of Defense data. Meanwhile, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that, since announcing its mandate end of July, vaccination rates among its 115,000 healthcare employees increased from 77% to 82%.

Delta Airlines said employees’ vaccination rate has increased to 78% from 74% in the last two weeks they announced the $200 surcharge on the unvaccinated. The airline company said it has also not seen a rise in turnover; the loss of workers in a tight labor market has been a concern among companies in the service sector.

Since United Airlines announced that its 67,000 US employees must provide proof that they are vaccinated by Oct. 25 or face losing their jobs, more than half of unvaccinated employees have had shots, according to company officials.

Will mandatory vaccinations convince holdouts to get their shots?

It’s too early to say the employer-mandated policy is the best method, but people’ trust in their employer is higher than in government or in the media, which could point the way to vaccinating more people. A 2021 survey by Edelman, a public relations firm, found 61% of people surveyed expressed trust in businesses, more so than the government (53%) or in the media (51%). The report also found over two-thirds of people surveyed agreed that “CEOs should step in when the government does not fix societal problems.” The survey was conducted in 28 countries between Oct. 19 and Nov. 18 of 2020 and had 33,000 respondents.

One other reason the mandate could work may be due to the guaranteed paid time off for vaccination, particularly, in industries like retail and hospitality where paid leave policies are rare or limited. A study by Kaiser Family Foundation found that some 20% of workers have said they have not gotten vaccinated because they’re afraid of missing work or are too busy.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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