WTW survey: Few employers think COVID-19 vaccines should be mandatory for workers

Few employers believe vaccines should be mandatory before employees return to the workplace, according to a new survey from Willis Towers Watson.

WTW surveyed 446 employers between late February and mid-March and found just 10% believe workers should be required to get a vaccination for COVID-19 as a condition of employment.

That said, nearly a quarter (23%) said a vaccine should be required before workers return to the office, according to the survey.

Jeff Levin-Scherz, M.D., population health leader at WTW, told Fierce Healthcare that for employers outside of high-risk industries such as healthcare, there are a lot of factors that make it hard to issue a mandate for vaccines at present.

For one, there are still significant challenges with access to vaccines, though supply is growing and vaccination programs are starting to open more widely. In addition, forcing workers to get vaccinated could have the opposite effect, he said, especially due to the political polarization in the U.S.

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Employers' perspectives on this could change in the future, though, as the vaccine becomes more widely available, Levin-Scherz said.

"People haven’t had a chance to see just what a difference the vaccine is making in people’s lives, and they will in the future," he said.

Most employers said they view expanding access to vaccines as key to kick-starting the economy and bringing their workplaces back to normal, the survey found. Eighty percent said immunization is central to establishing a new normal for their employees, and 84% said it's crucial to getting the economy back on track.

As such, 60% said they have communicated with workers about the importance of vaccines, and 35% said they are planning to do so or considering it.

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Thirty-five percent said they've developed policies to make it easier for their workers to get a vaccine, and 50% said they're considering similar moves. Nearly a quarter (23%) said they're boosting access by obtaining vaccines for their employees themselves or facilitating the vaccines through a third party.

Two in 10 of the surveyed employers said they're offering incentives to workers to encourage them to get vaccinations, with 29% saying they're planning to do so. Among these offerings are extra leave time or vacation to get vaccinated, offered by 39%, and additional leave for workers who may have negative reactions or get sick due to the vaccine.

One in 10 of those aiming to incentivize workers to get vaccinated said they're offering cash or other financial rewards.

Just over half (55%) said they believe their workforce will be fully vaccinated by the end of the year, while only 30% expected the entire working population in the U.S. to be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

Levin-Scherz said this is likely a positive, as employers are more likely to have the pulse of their own workforces.

"I think it reflects positively on the outlook we have overall," he said.