On 3 September 2021, Discovery announced its mandatory vaccination policy for South Africa-based employees
Staff vaccination rates have climbed from 22% at start of September to 94% by 30 November
Across all main categories, including sex, age and seniority, more than 90% of staff are vaccinated
Vaccination rates projected to reach levels greater than 97% before the peak of fourth wave, in early 2022
Vaccination mandate consistent with Discovery's core purpose to make people healthier and to enhance and protect their lives
On 3 September 2021, Discovery announced its intention to implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, effective 1 January 2022 for South Africa-based employees; with Discovery premises to be vaccinated-only zones.
When the mandate was announced, 22% of the organisation's 11 000-strong employees were vaccinated. Twelve weeks later, and 94% of staff have been vaccinated.
Staff vaccination is projected to reach levels greater than 97% before the peak of fourth wave in early 2022. This is likely if 40% of employees who have lodged objections to vaccination decided to be vaccinated, and if 63% of those who have said they plan to be vaccinated carry through with their plans.
Why introduce a mandatory vaccination policy?
"We debated a move to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination at length and sought wide-ranging input externally and internally," says Discovery Group CEO Adrian Gore. "Ultimately, as a science-led organisation, we felt a strong moral imperative to implement a mandate, given the need to curb the loss of life and the indisputable evidence that COVID-19 vaccines protect people from serious COVID-19 illness and death. The mandate is at the heart of our core purpose to make people healthier and to enhance and protect their lives."
Discovery's Mandatory Vaccination Policy takes the following into account:
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented tragedy. "Based on excess deaths data published by the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Discovery Health estimates that there have been more than 242,000 deaths in South Africa due to COVID-19 since May 2020. Our modelling assumes that only 90% of the excess deaths published by the SAMRC are related to COVID-19. More than 14,000 Discovery Health administered scheme members have died, and we have experienced devastating loss of life in our own organisation with 22 staff deaths," explains Gore.
A wealth of credible research and global evidence from leading academic institutions conclusively demonstrates that COVID-19 vaccination is safe and effective. Furthermore, Discovery Health recently shared its data analysis of vaccine effectiveness (data from 1.2 million administered scheme members) in the context of the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This analysis found that (relative to the unvaccinated), fully (Pfizer-BioNTech) vaccinated individuals experience a 79% lower risk of COVID-19 infection, 92% lower risk of hospitalisation and 94% lower risk of mortality 14-days post second-dose vaccination.
Vaccination is a public health imperative both in slowing the spread of infection and rate at which new variants emerge. "Available data showslower rates of infection, severe disease and death in populations with high rates of vaccination. By slowing the spread of infection, we also reduce the chances of mutation and potential emergence of new variants," adds Gore.
Vaccine supply is no longer the dominant constraint - overcoming hesitancy is. "At present, hesitancy is a key driver of low demand for COVID-19 vaccination," adds Gore. "We could vaccinate 80% of our population with Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine stock we have available. However, at present, national vaccine supply and capacity to vaccinate far exceeds demand for vaccination, particularly among younger age groups."
Modelling shows fourth wave likely in December 2021; extent of wave shows sensitivity to vaccine uptake. "Discovery Health has run modelling around COVID-19 related deaths across various scenarios," says Gore. "A medium scenario assumes about 35% of the population is vaccinated by the end of 2021, and that vaccination rates plateau from there. In this case, between June 2021 and June 2022 (taking the third and fourth waves into account) South Africa experiences a further 16 000 excess deaths because of the pandemic. In the total absence of COVID-19 vaccines there would be a further 55 000 deaths over this time frame, showing the potentially significant toll of the pandemic without vaccination.
"There are indications that the looming fourth wave will be driven by the newly identified omicron variant of concern. While there is limited data around this variant at present, we do know that it exhibits extensive mutations in the spike protein alluding to its potentially increased transmissibility. Vaccination remains key to mitigating against severe illness and death in this regard."
Mandatory vaccination policy designed with specific principles in mind
Discovery's mandatory vaccination policy has been implemented in line with the following four principles:
Ensuring mutual respect between employer and employee and in alignment with our values as an organisation.
Balancing the individual rights and liberties of all employees (vaccinated and unvaccinated) with the operational and broader stakeholder obligations of the business.
Regular and proactive discussion and engagement with employees to discuss and refine the implementation of the policy and to provide information and support. This includes a wide array of educational resources made available to staff in recent months, as well as being afforded the opportunity to consult with clinical experts, health professionals, and Discovery and human resources leaders as needed, to encourage staff to make informed decisions around being vaccinated for COVID-19. The objective is to offer employees all necessary support and information so that employees vaccinate voluntarily, and the mandate becomes nothing more than a filed policy come the new year."
A structured process in place to consider objections to vaccination based on constitutional rights and to ensure a concerted effort to explore reasonable accommodation if required.
Gore adds: "At present, 583 employees are not vaccinated. Within this group, approximately 240 employees plan to vaccinate prior to the end of the year, and approximately 330 members of staff have lodged written objections to the mandatory vaccination policy.
A collective response is key to saving lives and to accelerating our economic recovery
"We are a data-driven and fact-based organisation with all of our decision made on the basis of rigorous analysis and scientific evidence," says Gore.
"Our experience so far shows that a mandatory vaccination policy works; and is key to accelerating vaccination take-up. As we move into a third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must do everything possible to prevent further disease and death and get the economy moving again. Our hope is that other organisations will follow suit, with a profound systemic impact on vaccination take-up."
Please see below link to media session hosted on 30 November 2021
Topic: Adrian Gore provides an update
Start Time: Nov 30, 2021 01:15 PM
Access Passcode: ^=M^+L9b