Special thanks to these professionals for their contributions to this article.
Robert "Neal" Mills, MD
Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President, Coleader of Global COVID-19 Task Force
Nancy Green, CPCU, ARM
Executive Vice President | Global Client Promise Leader, Coleader of Aon's Global COVID-19 Task Force, Strategic Account Manager, and Coleader of Aon's Hotel Industry Focus
Managing Consultant, US—Casualty Claims Consulting, Global Risk Consulting, and Member of Aon's Global COVID-19 Task Force
As organizations continue to navigate the impact of the pandemic on their workforce, misinformation around the necessity and efficacy of vaccines continues to obscure the overall public health recommendations regarding vaccination, boosters, and overall steps required to reduce COVID-19 infections. In addition, at the time of this article, federal and several state and city governments have modified or discontinued mandatory vaccination requirements.
COVID-19 Questions and Answers (Q&A)
See below Q&A supported by the COVID-19 Task Force's coleaders: Nancy Green and Dr. Neal Mills (who is also Aon's chief medical officer), as well as Carol Ungaretti, managing consultant.
Does the failure to reach a high vaccination level increase the chances of COVID-19 variants, like the Omicron variant? If so, what might we expect if we can't reach a vaccination level that hinders the spread of COVID-19?
Low vaccination rates may provide additional opportunities for new variants to emerge, given that viruses can linger longer unimpeded in the human body and other reservoirs. Lower vaccination rates mean more disruptions to our life, including infections, severe disease, hospitalizations, and more restrictions for society.
Do vaccination mandates increase vaccination rates?
Many employers have reported a significant jump in their fully vaccinated rates when a carefully communicated mandate is implemented.
What is an effective tool for employers to increase vaccination rates with employees?
Ongoing discussions about the pandemic, and most recently published data about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, positively impacts employees' decisions about getting vaccinated. We've also seen employers have great success by providing access to third-party experts to answer employees' questions about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccination.
Does "fully vaccinated" now include being boosted?
This may soon become the case, considering Omicron's ability to partially evade some of our vaccine's protections. We should expect new variations of the vaccines to be specifically tailored to Omicron and potentially other variants in Spring 2022. In light of new variants and waning immunity, we should anticipate the Food and Drug Administration/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change fully vaccinated definitions when more evidence is available.
Has Omicron changed employers positioning regarding "return to office"? If so, in what ways?
Many employers are rethinking their return to office timing, pending additional information on how Omicron could impact return-to-office policies and plans. This is further compounded by the fact that many geographies in the United States and other countries are still challenged by the Omicron variant. In addition to Omicron impacting return to the office, confusion around mandates and the uncertainty introduced by litigation surrounding those mandates is driving hesitancy in finalizing policies. It's a complex legal landscape, and employers should consult their own legal counsel as they further plan return-to-office protocols and policies.
It's also important to know that the topic of COVID-19 vaccine mandates isn't just an issue in the United States; other countries have implemented, or are considering implementing, vaccine mandates. Employers with a footprint that includes geographies outside of the United States need to monitor developments in those geographies as well.
Some Final Thoughts
Much as we would all like to be done with COVID-19, COVID-19 is not done with us. Organizations should make decisions that recognize COVID-19 is still a global problem and may continue to be a concern into 2022 and potentially beyond. We should not make plans that ignore COVID-19 and the potential volatility that it can introduce into the business of an organization, either directly or indirectly. From impacts on health and human capital planning to supply chain implications, the landscape continues to evolve. The ability to flex continues to be key, and maintaining records aligned with a time line, including justification regarding changes in policy, is critical.
Political differences, disinformation, and misinformation and how these impact the use of mitigating measures continue to drive overall hospitalizations and deaths. There are states and communities (and countries, for that matter) that have higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths per 100,000 of population than others (regardless of whether those hospitalizations and death rates relate to COVID-19 or not) compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. Employer decisions regarding reopening offices should be determined based on consistent parameters, and mitigation measures should be applied consistently with consideration to local guidelines and threat indexes such as infection or hospitalization rates.
When we think about COVID-19 potentially becoming endemic, endemic doesn't mean benign. An endemic disease can still cause severe illness, hospitalization, and death; the current prevailing science supports that severe illness, hospitalization, and death can be mitigated via vaccination.
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