More than 173 million Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and nearly 62% have received at least one jab, according to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker. In a mid-August press conference, the White House outlined a booster shot rollout program planned to start in late September. As companies bring employees back to the office, an increasing number of organizations are announcing vaccine mandates for workers. So, what systems are employers using to securely log and track employee health data and how will boosters fit into the office reentry equation?
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COVID-19 boosters and vaccine mandates
After more than a year of remote work, companies have started to bring employees back to the traditional office; albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. However, surging coronavirus cases around the country spurred by the more contagious delta variant is complicating office reentry timelines.
“The COVID pandemic is incredibly fluid and businesses need to be able to quickly implement changes in a timely manner,” said Blake McConnell, SVP of employee workflow products at ServiceNow.
At the same time, companies are crafting new office policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in-house including inoculation mandates. Amid the sugaring cases and uncertainty surrounding the delta variant, employers have shifted their workforce policies as the public health situation unfolds. While employer conversations around vaccine boosters are still in their “early days” for many of ServiceNow’s customers, McConnell said these ideas are “top of mind.”
“The priority for many of our customers right now is determining vaccine policies and implementing the right technology to support these policies. Many organizations mandating vaccines are also anticipating the need to track boosters,” he continued.
At the moment, McConnell said companies tracking workforces vaccination as part of a larger in-house requirement is “becoming more and more common,” and detailed some of the tech used to track proof of vaccinations, including ServiceNow’s Vaccination Status app where employees can submit their vaccination status as well as new support for logging boosters.
“Tracking proof of vaccination is only one piece of the puzzle for companies looking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on-site,” McConnell said. “They also need to consider other technology, policies and strategies as they safely reopen offices and plan for hybrid work.”
As an example, McConnell discussed health screening apps to ensure employees “meet workplace entry requirements,” as well as contact tracing capabilities, solutions to manage and reserve workspaces, schedule cleaning and manage traffic flows.
COVID-19 booster side effects and time off
Aside from drafting policies to track inoculations, employers will also need to consider contingency planning related to COVID-19 boosters and potential side effects employees experience. Similar to other inoculations, there are a number of potential side effects related to COVID-19 vaccination. These include pain, swelling and redness on the arm jabbed as well as fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea, according to the CDC.
“Most of the time these are mild to moderate symptoms, occur within the first 3 days of vaccination and resolve within 1 to 3 days of onset. These are found more commonly after [the] second dose and with younger people under the age of 55,” said Teresa Bartlett, MD, senior medical officer at Sedgwick.
Compared to the initial inoculations, Bartlett said the booster side effects are “anticipated to be similar to the second shot of the vaccine.”
Due to these side effects, some people may need to take time off from work and plan to make arrangements accordingly. Proactive planning ahead of a booster could help employees burn through paid time off.
“My best advice is to get vaccinated or the booster either at a time leading up to a weekend or when you have a few days off. Some people do not have any side effects at all or merely experience a little fatigue,” Bartlett said.
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In recent months, a number of companies have helped employees with vaccination by providing information about the jabs, hosting events to inoculate staff and more. Some companies have also provided employees with paid time off to help with recovery and scheduling following vaccination.
Similarly, Bartlett said companies provide employees time to get their boosters as well as time to recover post-vaccination to help their employees.
“Asking employees to plan toward the end of their workweek and working with the employees to ensure not everyone goes at the same time to be vaccinated is a good strategy especially for health and essential workers,” she continued.
Booster vaccine mandates?
Some industries and employers are mandating vaccinations and setting deadlines for employee compliance, Bartlett explained, and given the rise variants, she said it is a “good idea” to protect workers with “some level of antibody response,” although this will depend on the “industry segment and amount of public interaction.”
“There may come a time when the variants will not respond to the vaccines and at that point, employers will have to rethink their positions,” Bartlett continued.
A number of companies, unions and other organizations have announced vaccine mandates or their support for these policies. On Aug. 23, the Pfizer vaccine became the first COVID-19 vaccination with full FDA approval and more employer vaccine mandates could follow the announcement. But will companies implement similar mandates regarding fall boosters for in-house employees?
“It is expected that eventually [companies] will also mandate the booster just as many do today with the flu vaccine in the health care industry,” Bartlett said. “There is reputational risk at stake for some employers especially in the health care industry where they are not only responsible for the health and safety of their workforce but also the patients they serve.”