As U.S. health authorities near emergency approvals for the first covid-19 vaccines, companies are taking some of the first concrete steps to prepare for the unprecedented and complex task of distributing hundreds of millions of doses to the American workforce.
Ford has procured deep-freezers to store vaccines at some of its factories. Sanderson Farms, a top poultry producer, will administer vaccines to employees at health clinics erected at its facilities, and the CEO pledges to get inoculated on video to encourage workers to do the same. Activision Blizzard plans to cover vaccination costs for employees and their immediate families. Several industries are lobbying to get their workers near the front of the line after the first doses go to health-care workers and nursing home residents.
More actions will come once federal and state officials set guidelines to steer how and when everyone from teachers to truckers will eventually gain access to the shots in coming months.
“That’s really when the question is: How do employers play this?” said Bunny Ellerin, director of the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program at Columbia Business School. “They absolutely are going to have to deal with this if they want to have healthy employees” and one day return to a more normal work life.
The answers — whether they come from companies or government — are all part of the effort to save lives and get people back to work. Since the pandemic struck, there are 9.8 million fewer jobs and the U.S. economy has shrunk by 3.5% from its previous peak.
And once the logistics are figured out, another touchy subject awaits: how to get workers to actually take the shots.
The food industry is among the most eager to get priority for its workers, after thousands caught the virus earlier this year at meat and food plants. Such crews should receive vaccinations after health-care employees and those in long-term care, the lobbying group North American Meat Institute said.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has likewise urged federal health officials to grant early vaccine access for essential workers at grocery stores, meatpacking and food-processing facilities. Conagra Brands said it is working through a trade association to get priority for its essential facility workers.
Delta Air Lines hasn’t decided whether to require vaccinations before employees or passengers can fly, though it will strongly encourage its workers to get the shots, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said on NBC’s “Today” show last week.
“Airline employees are front-line workers and will be given priority as front-line workers to access to the vaccine,” Bastian said. “Myself, I can’t wait to get vaccinated.”
Other companies with primarily office-based personnel are taking a more passive approach.
“Our plan will be to get the access to the vaccine as fast as possible for our employees, but consistent with what society has in terms of priorities,” Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan said in November. “It’s incumbent on us and all private industry to make sure that we let society work through what it needs on this thing, get it in high-risk people, get it in the first responders.”
Banks, which critics have long targeted for big bonuses paid out to executives and traders, were wary of crafting plans to vaccinate white-collar workers early. Adding to their hesitation: They’ve spent months publicly touting how well their employees are performing in the remote environment. Internally, there’s also a desire to show support for front-line branch workers, many of whom have still had to appear in-person.
Several companies said they needed clearer direction from state and federal authorities before deciding how they’ll make a vaccine available to their workers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee has recommended that states first vaccinate health-care workers and long-term-care residents. The…
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