I would like to see every business in South Africa doing everything possible to encourage employees and the wider public to get vaccinated. This is in our own interest as business – we will never be able to confidently get past this pandemic if we do not get vaccination rates up across the whole country.
There has obviously been much debate about vaccine mandates. Companies like Discovery have shown how powerful they can be, having now got its staff vaccination rate up to 94%. Other companies have followed the example, though there will be legal tests of the principles, I am sure. Organised business is working to obtain legal clarity as soon as possible.
I am also encouraged that President Cyril Ramaphosa is establishing a task team to explore the issue. There is much that government can do to make it easier to mandate vaccination. Vaccination is a public good in that high rates at a population level substantially reduce the risks of serious medical consequences from the illness, slow down transmission and reduce the probability of new variants.
But companies can do a lot to drive vaccine take-up even if they do not mandate it. Encourage and support your employees – many are hesitant not because of some deep ideological conviction but because they do not have the information to feel able to make an informed choice. Help by giving clear information on vaccines, including the growing body of international evidence on how to help countries get back to normal.
Explain where they can get vaccinated and offer them time off to do so (it is a legal requirement).
While there may well be important workplace safety grounds for employees to get vaccinated, it is also a public good and business can contribute to driving wider vaccination rates. I have been encouraged by those businesses that have tried to influence vaccine take up by the wider public, for example by offering discounts to those who are vaccinated. This is an obvious way that business can use its influence to contribute to the wider public good. I think this is clearly in line with businesses’ commitment to be socially responsible.
I would like to see companies publicly reporting on what they are doing to drive vaccine take up both internally and in the wider public – they should be rewarded by public recognition. Some have taken impressive measures.
For example, the DG Murray Trust is funding prizes that all those vaccinated by the end of the year will be eligible for. Uber is giving free trips to vaccination sites.
I also applaud government’s own efforts to drive vaccinations including its Vooma vouchers, currently available to over 50s who vaccinate, and its Vooma Vax Champs programme to promote awareness.
The Omicron variant has obviously been devastating. The impact on the tourism industry – which saw over R1 billion of bookings cancelled in the three days after it gained global attention – has been particularly shocking. Unemployment statistics last week served to underline just how desperate the situation is – we are still losing jobs despite most of the lockdown conditions having been lifted, with 660 000 fewer jobs in the third quarter than we had a year ago. The blow from Omicron will exacerbate this.
Initial indicators are that there has been a surge in vaccinations in the last week. That is a positive response to the news of Omicron though of course such deviations in demand create logistical challenges in distributing vaccines to where take up has been highest, although we are assured there is enough in stock. We may well though need to focus on logistics more if we sustain the vaccination rates at current high levels.
Please get in touch if you have other ideas on how organised business could help drive vaccination rates. We all have a common interest in seeing the numbers shoot upward.
Busi Mavuso is CEO Business Leadership South Africa.