Anti-vaxxers should 'rethink their decision 10 times' - Momentum Life CEO

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Protesters congregate outside Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on 21 August 2021 to protest against mandatory vaccination.
Protesters congregate outside Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on 21 August 2021 to protest against mandatory vaccination.
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  • Momentum Life's CEO says there's enough data available about how getting a Covid-19 vaccine can prevent deaths and more severe infections.
  • Momentum is already starting to see the effect of the vaccines in its claims data, with claims from health professionals reducing since the first wave.
  • Many life insurers have not changed their underwriting for those who don't want to vaccinate. But if their death claims surge, they may be forced to.

Momentum Life CEO Johan le Roux says there's more than enough information available on how Covid-19 vaccines can save lives by preventing more serious complications; therefore, there's no reason for people not to vaccinate.

Speaking at a webinar where the insurer shared its Covid-19 claims experience on Friday, Le Roux said anti-vaxxers should rethink their decision ten times.

"[W]e know too much. We've seen too much. The probability of dying if you didn't have the vaccine versus having it, it's just so vastly different … I think you really fool yourself if you think you're better off without the jab," said Le Roux.

Momentum said the effect of the vaccines is already starting to show up in its claims. Ingram said as far as professions are concerned, the second and third waves had a less severe impact on health professionals, thanks to the vaccination rollout.

Vaccine effect on claims

The insurer said that in the first wave, 8% of Covid-19-related claims it processed came from health professionals. This decreased to 2% in the third wave. Claims from teachers reduced from 5% to 2%. These professions were among the groups that accessed vaccines earlier than the rest of the population.

Under the income protection products, which cater for temporary sickness, almost 60% of Covid-19-related claims Momentum paid came from medical professionals. This came down to around 30% during the third wave, a reduction that the insurer attributed to the vaccine rollout.

"Obviously, we know [the vaccine] prevents serious illness and death. But it also seems to be playing a role in [patients] getting less sick as well," said Momentum actuary and head of retail products development, Jenny Ingram.

Also, during the current third wave, Momentum noticed that the virus started affecting people between the ages of 40 and 60 years more. Ingram said claims numbers started showing more younger policyholders because the elderly had largely been vaccinated.

Momentum has also been observing infection rates in the UK since the country began ramping up vaccinations. Because the number of vaccinated people surges 64% between December 2020 and May 2021, the UK's third wave of Covid-19 infections in May was much more muted than the first two waves, especially hospitalisations and Covid-19-related deaths.

"Even though the infections went up, the hospitalisations and deaths rates have remained stable. So, I think that's a lot of the silver lining for us in terms of what we know we are working towards. We know there's going to be a light at the end of the tunnel," said Ingram.

Underwriting anti-vaxxers

While Discovery has drawn a line in the sand by announcing that it will underwrite anti-vaxxers differently, Le Roux said, for now, Momentum will observe the death trends among people who didn't vaccinate versus vaccinated people. Currently, the insurer doesn't differentiate in its underwriting process.

But if the mortality experience shows significant differences between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated in time, he thought the whole life insurance industry might start tweaking its underwriting practices.

"We respect every person's right to choose not to have a jab. But it's the same with smoking. It's your choice whether or not you smoke. But if you do smoke, we know your mortality experience is different, and underwriting practices reflect that."

Insurers will also take a cue from their clients who have been vaccinated if they start questioning whether they are being fairly treated for subsidising the death claims of people who don't want to vaccinate.

But Le Roux said the issue goes broader than just life insurance. Other industries where consumers may start raising questions if they have to mix with people who don't have vaccine passports include travelling, restaurants and big outdoor events.

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