The FINANCIAL — More than 700,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic — that’s 1 in 500 people. Everyone is desperate for the pandemic to end.
To discuss how the private sector — mostly made up of private, for-profit companies — can help keep our communities safe and speed our return to a strong and stable economy, Kaiser Permanente convened a virtual panel discussion, “Destination Health: The Private Sector’s Role in Ending the Pandemic.”
Safe, effective vaccines a key tool
Experts agree that the best and fastest path out of this public health crisis is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
Greg A. Adams, chair and chief executive officer of Kaiser Permanente, reminded attendees of what’s at stake: The latest COVID-19 surge, fueled by the delta variant, has impacted not just the most vulnerable people, but also younger, previously healthy adults and even children.
“Through vaccination, we can stop this pandemic for our families, for our friends, and for each other,” said Adams.
Real-world data continues to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, noted Stephen Parodi, MD, executive vice president, The Permanente Federation, and national infectious disease lead at Kaiser Permanente.
“There are now large studies looking at vaccine safety relative to the complications from COVID-19,” Dr. Parodi said. “There’s no question that the vaccines are way safer than waiting to get COVID.”
Partnering with government and community leaders, the private sector has played an important role in increasing vaccination rates, according to Kaiser Permanente.
The role of vaccination mandates
United Airlines recently achieved a 99% vaccination rate among its employees after issuing a vaccination mandate in early August 2021, around the same time Kaiser Permanente issued its own employee mandate.
“We spent a lot of time educating our employees about the vaccines,” said Brett Hart, president of United Airlines. “The one way for us to really beat this pandemic, to get our business back on track, and to create an environment where both our customers and our employees and their families were safe, was to get everyone vaccinated.”
After businesses like Kaiser Permanente and United Airlines announced their mandates, others followed, noted panelist Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, which represents about 325 businesses across every sector.
In September 2021, the Biden Administration announced that all employers with more than 100 workers would need to require vaccination or weekly tests for the virus. This was welcome news for Molly Moon Neitzel, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. During the pandemic, jobs requiring face-to-face interactions, such as customer service roles, have been challenging to fill and keep filled.
“We created a vaccine mandate at Molly Moon’s when President Biden said that every employer our size and larger would need to have a vaccine mandate in place,” she said. “That gives us the ability to be on a level playing field with every other company recruiting talent.”
Industry leaders team up to confront COVID-19 challenges
A key area of success during the pandemic has been how well businesses have worked together and shared information.
“One of the things that has been most gratifying is the transparency and the willingness to share information and to lock arms and get through this together,” said Hart.
Kaiser Permanente has shared research on vaccine safety and effectiveness. We also developed playbooks to share knowledge with leaders across sectors as they collectively grappled with an unprecedented global pandemic.
The playbooks — covering topics ranging from how to implement an employee vaccination mandate to how to how to keep employees safe when they return to work — are available to anyone interested: the government, health systems, business leaders, and more.
All panelists agreed that to bring an end to this pandemic, all sectors need to continue to work together and maintain open lines of communication. So far, this teamwork has resulted in two-thirds of all employees in the United States now being under some form of vaccination mandate.
“There’s no way to do this in any one sector by itself,” said Dr. Parodi.