Discovery says it “intends to move to a mandatory vaccination policy” for its employees, effective from 1 January, 2022.
It says its offices and sites will become “vaccination-only zones”.
The country’s largest health insurer says this decision is because of the “clear moral and social obligation to enhance and protect their lives”.
It further justifies this move by saying that Covid is an “unprecedented health tragedy; with the fourth wave posing further risk”.
There have been 220 000 excess deaths in South Africa since May 2020, with over 14 000 client deaths and 20 employee deaths.
It says more than 30 000 lives can be saved if more than 60% of the population is vaccinated over the coming months.
It highlights that the “issue is no longer one of limited access to vaccines, but one of hesitancy”.
Compared to those who are unvaccinated, those who are have a 50%-80% lower chance of infection, a 70%-85% lower risk of hospitalisation and 90%-95% lower chance of death.
It says fewer than one in 20 of its members “showed any signs of side-effects”.
The group has helped vaccinate over 890 000 members of Discovery Health administered schemes and 300 000 individuals outside of this. Across its nine Discovery vaccination sites, it has deployed 1 000 staff at a cost of R42 million.
It expects this programme to cost R200 million in total.
It says 51.2% of total lives in the Discovery Health business are at least partially vaccinated, with this number increasing to 76.2% for those members over 60.
Nearly two-thirds (64.4%) of those members over 60 are fully vaccinated.
It says 65% of its clients across its base aged 50 to 59 are partially or fully vaccinated (54% for those aged 35 to 49).
Discovery says it is aiming to have over 80% of its members over 60 vaccinated by the end of this month and 80% of its whole book by the end of the year.
Of concern is the “slow takeup in younger cohorts”, with the over-35 age group lagging the uptake seen in the over 50 cohorts.
Discovery says the pandemic has been five times worse in South Africa than in the UK.
It says “given SA’s younger age profile, expect deaths to be 64% lower, but when adjusting for population size (12% smaller) the data indicates the epidemic is currently 5.5 times worse than UK”.
Vaccinated Discovery Life members will receive “preferred premiums”.