It took Discovery nearly three months to vaccinate about 94% of its staff contingent. Of that, 72% are fully inoculated against the novel coronavirus.
Discovery Health was one of the first companies to impose a vaccine mandate on staff as early as September.
“The effect of the vaccine mandate has been remarkable,” said Discovery CEO Adrian Gore.
Gore said they never anticipated that vaccine hesitancy would be so rife because the initial concern was getting vaccines for South Africans.
Now there are enough vaccines, but people are sceptical to get the jab.
But he said convincing people to get the vaccine takes work, constant nudging, and personally reaching out throughout the process.
“The aim for us was to get all staff vaccinated by the fourth wave,” said Gore.
Gore said Discovery’s preliminary information predicts that we will be at the peak of the fourth wave by the end of December.
How Discovery did it
There are growing debates and calls for vaccine mandates, and Gore said mandates are necessary if the country wants to achieve population immunity.
Gore said the environment on mandates had changed.
“There is a complex legal framework. One of the more important legislations for businesses to consider is the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which compels employers to provide a safe environment without risk to staff health.”
Vaccine mandates are a delicate balance of everyone’s rights, employees who are vaccinated, the unvaccinated, employers and businesses.
Discovery’s vaccine mandate structure
1) Mutual respect – between employers and staff.
2) Balancing the rights/liberties of all individuals – It is not only about the rights of the unvaccinated.
3) Reasonable accommodation for justified objections – staff that raised objections on medical, religious and cultural grounds must be accommodated if the reasons are justified.
4) Proactive engagement from the beginning of September – Discovery embarked on an intensive engagement process with staff since September.
About 3.2% of staff have objected to the mandatory vaccines based on medical, body integrity, religious/cultural reasons and other reasons.
The process to deal with the objections continues. “There are two panels set up to engage employees who’ve objected to the mandate, one is for medical objections and the other is for religious objections.
Some female staff had expressed concerns about infertility and pregnancy, after which Discovery consulted medical experts to weigh in.
Staff religious and cultural objections are quite varied, and Discovery is engaging those objections individually, which is being assessed against legal precedent.
How Discovery deals with vaccine hesitancy
Discovery also invested resources into understanding their staff’s reasons behind vaccine hesitancy and created educational resources for those employees.
“There is an infodemic around the vaccines. This is the chronic spread of misinformation on the virus and vaccines,” said Chief Commercial Officer and Head of Discovery’s Covid task team Ronald Whelan.
The company also provided staff with Uber vouchers to get to vaccine sites.
The mandate process required increased ‘nudging’, which included outbound calls, reminders and personalised CEO outreach.
Omicron effect on the vaccinated
Whelan said the newly identified Omicron variant is of concern.
“We are seeing a sharp increase in infections, but we can’t be sure if it’s linked to Omicron. There’s a cluster outbreak in Tshwane, particularly among under ’30s,” said Whelan.
He said it was too early to speculate on the reinfection rate of vaccinated people on the back of Omicron, but that more information would be revealed in the come in coming weeks.
Roughly 70% of South Africans were infected during the Delta wave.