JSE-listed medical aid and financial services giant Discovery says at least 94.4% of its staff have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, bringing the total number of its vaccinated employees to 9 919, up from 2 177 when the group first announced its mandatory vaccine policy in early September.
The group reported on the progress of the rollout of its mandatory vaccination policy in a virtual media briefing on Tuesday, following President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing the establishment of a task team on Sunday that will look into mandating vaccinations in the country.
Discovery Group CEO Adrian Gore said what the company has achieved so far is an indication that mandatory vaccine policies work well in fast-tracking vaccine uptake.
“We’ve been very pleased with the force of the mandate and the broad take-up,” he said.
The group is now aiming to ensure that at least 97% of its staff is vaccinated by the time the fast-approaching fourth wave of Covid-19 infections peaks, which it estimates will be around the end of December to early January 2022.
“The emphasis behind our decision is firstly, we want to avoid deaths and this is a non-academic debate. The number of people vaccinated is fundamental to the number of deaths, specifically going into the fourth wave,” Gore said.
According to Discovery, 337 of its employees have objected to taking the vaccine to date, citing medical, religious, cultural and body-integrity-related concerns as reasons.
The group said so far none of the employees have taken the company to court in relation to its mandatory vaccine policy.
Discovery added that those employees with objections that are deemed as “justified” will undergo a reasonable accommodation process which will be linked to the respective employee’s role in the company.
Employees who form part of this process will be required to submit a negative Covid-19 test when working at the office. They will also undergo Covid-19 screening and must wear a mask.
“The frequency of their being in the office is a determination that will be made in the context of the workforce model [fully-office-based, hybrid or majority remote],” Discovery’s chief people officer Zimkhitha Saungweme told Moneyweb.
“We are also encouraging employees to explore alternate roles if their vaccine status does not meet their current workforce model,” Saungweme said.
Employees whose objections do not fall within this category will enter into a three-step consultative process with Discovery that is aimed at understanding the employees’ objections. This is ultimately the group’s final attempt to persuade employees to vaccinate.
The three-step process is as follows:
- Employees will have to submit written objections, which Discovery will engage with and form an understanding of the employees position.
- Employee submissions will go through one of two sub-committee review panels – some will be filtered to the medical objections committee and others to the constitutional objections panel (these panels will include internal experts supported by external independent experts).
- After going through the respective sub-committees, employee submissions will go through the overarching group committee panel that will review the decisions of the previous panels, ensuring fairness and compliance with policy principles.
“We designed a process where at every step of the process we’re engaging, mutually respectfully, but most importantly giving our employees every opportunity to review their decisions and potentially opt to be vaccinated … We certainly want to support them in that regard,” Discovery’s chief commercial officer and head of the group’s Covid task team, Dr Ron Whelan, said.
Discovery employees who continue to maintain their positions at the conclusion of this process and remain unvaccinated by the end of the year will undergo a disciplinary process and will not be allowed into the group’s offices come January 1, 2022.
Business calls for vaccination mandate
Following Ramaphosa announcing intentions to look into mandating vaccinations across the country, various bodies – especially organised business leaders – have come out in support of the move.
Business for South Africa (B4SA) on Monday welcomed the president’s announcement.
The group said it supports vaccination mandates and the fast-tracking of efforts to regulate access to certain spaces to the vaccinated population.
“We need to rapidly move to a situation where only vaccinated individuals should be allowed to travel in buses, taxis and airplanes, or to eat and drink in indoor establishments such as restaurants and taverns,” said B4SA’s chair Martin Kingston.
He said this would be in line with global restrictions and is supported by science with regards to airborne diseases.
“Ventilation and masks remain important, but we now need to look at enforcing a further layer of protection,” he stressed.
Kingston further called on employers to implement vaccine mandates where possible to ensure employee and customer safety.
This is despite the legal implications employers could potentially face.
“We all understand the constitutional rights that we as individuals have and we have no doubt that there will be an increasing number of legal cases, and we think that is a good thing because we believe the sooner there is clarity the better it will be,” Kingston said.
“South Africa cannot afford more personal and economic pain … We have a responsibility to protect ourselves and our communities and to safeguard lives and livelihoods,” he said.