- Less than three months since Discovery implemented a mandatory vaccination policy, 94% of its staff is now vaccinated.
- Staff vaccination rate stood at only 22% when the company implemented that policy.
- The insurer says there's a lot of misinformation, making people concerned about future fertility, among other things.
Discovery says its mandatory vaccination policy for staff has helped get 94% of them fully vaccinated.
The insurance giant announced its mandatory vaccination policy for staff on 2 September, and it drew criticism from some corners of the public at the time. Since then, a lot of other companies, including Sanlam and Curro, have adopted the same stance, and many others are mulling it.
The narrative around mandatory vaccination in SA is also changing at a national level. On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government has set up a task team to consult about making vaccination mandatory for specific activities and locations. Even trade union federation Cosatu now supports it.
Sharing what Discovery learnt since it had that policy in place, CEO Adrian Gore said it took a lot of information-sharing webinars, one-on-one clinical consultations and the willingness to hear people out and accept valid objections.
Currently, just shy of 10 000 Discovery employees are vaccinated, out of 12 000 staff members. Another 2.3% still plan to get vaccinated. Only 3.2% have raised objections.
The objections raised included medical and body integrity concerns such as potential allergic reactions and fears that the jabs might affect fertility in future. Others raised constitutional reasons such as religious and cultural beliefs that prohibit vaccinations.
But Discovery is still hopeful that it can change the minds of 40% of those who object through information sharing and consultations with its clinical team. It also hopes to get 60% of those who have planned vaccinating to eventually do it. This would take its staff vaccination rate to 97%.
Not an easy road to take
Gore said planning to implement the mandatory vaccination policy was a lengthy process, though. This was made worse because there was still a lot of misinformation and different views on the Covid-19 vaccines at the time, and comprehensive data on the efficacy of the jabs were only just emerging. And there was no clear regulation on this in SA.
The Constitution, which reigns supreme, protects people's rights to make decisions on health and medical interventions, and protects their freedom of religion and belief.
Discovery, however, leaned on the Disaster Management Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and other employment laws to back its policy. These laws assert that employers have a legal and moral obligation to provide a safer workplace, without risk to health, among other things.
The Consolidated Coronavirus Covid-19 Direction on Occupational Health and Safety particularly asked employers in June to review and update their risk assessments posed by Covid-19 regularly. They also had to identify measures to eliminate or minimise the risks Covid-19 posed in the workplace. That's how the idea of mandatory vaccination policies came about. But they still had to balance the competing rights.
So, Discovery developed a framework for staff members who wanted to object to being vaccinated to do that formally. It put in place a constitutional sub-committee and a clinical sub-committee with doctors to review the objections. In November, it issued unvaccinated employees who didn't raise any objections with formal letters to get their jabs before the end of 2021.
Misinformation about vaccines
But because the decision not to vaccinate is sometimes a family-wide one, Discovery's clinical consultants have pulled in family members into their one-on-one staff consultations. Ron Whelan, the head of Discovery's Covid-19 Task Team, said many people have changed their minds through that process.
He said Discovery is starting to see the spillover effect into families of its staff and surrounding communities due to these direct engagements.
"It's been an interesting journey for us. There is a ton of misinformation out there at the moment, an infodemic. There is some very sophisticated misinformation out there," he said.
Gore said he looks forward to the debate at the national level in the coming weeks about the broader mandatory vaccination mandate, especially because a lot remains unknown about the Omnicron variant.
Discovery said it was still too early to speculate if people who had Covid-19 before are being reinfected or not. But the insurer estimates that about 70% of South Africa's population has already had Covid-19 after the Delta variant.
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