Don’t ‘hector’ workers over vaccine, warns top US business group

The head of one of America’s largest business groups has warned US employers against “hectoring” their workers into taking a Covid-19 vaccine or “finger wagging” as companies grapple with how to ensure their workforce is inoculated.

Joshua Bolten, head of the Business Roundtable — which has close to 200 members including the chief executives of JPMorgan, Amazon and General Motors — said a heavy-handed approach might end up proving “counterproductive”.

His intervention comes amid a global debate over the degree to which employers can cajole their workers into being vaccinated, including in the UK, where some companies are considering drawing up “no jab, no job” contracts.

It also comes as the Business Roundtable and large employers in the US embark on a campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy, which could hamper efforts to achieve herd immunity even after there is a sufficient supply of jabs.

The new Health Action Alliance includes companies such as Apple, Citigroup and Unilever, who are partnering with the Ad Council and non-profits including the CDC Foundation, which supports the work of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Bolten said some Business Roundtable members were encouraging workers to get a jab by experimenting with incentives like small bonuses or snacks at vaccination sites.

As soon as enough vaccines are available and employees meet the criteria, many employers hope to be able to inoculate their staff at work.

“All of our companies want as many of their employees to get vaccinated as possible,” Bolten said.

The Health Action Alliance is developing public service ad campaigns, training and guidelines for how to communicate the benefits of vaccines, particularly with more vulnerable yet hesitant groups such as people of colour.

Lisa Sherman, president of the Ad Council, said half of all Americans were taking a “wait and see” attitude and wanted more information on the safety and efficacy of vaccines. 

“We all know that our country’s public health and economic recovery totally depends on widespread adoption of Covid vaccines. But at the same time, I think we’re well aware of the fact that there is significant vaccine hesitancy,” she said. “There is fear and mistrust that really exists pretty broadly.”

She added that the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual study on how institutions are viewed, showed 72 per cent of Americans trust their employers as a source of information, including on the pandemic.

The ad campaigns would focus on what people were missing in their lives — such as seeing grandchildren, or allowing their kids to go on play dates, she said. 

Jim Fitterling, chief executive of chemical group Dow, told the Financial Times that it would “strongly encourage” but not mandate vaccinations.

“We believe in vaccines and we believe herd immunity is important in dealing with this but you also have to understand people have [individual] medical situations,” he said.

Additional reporting by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York

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