HR Policy Evolving Workplace Initiative Explores Impact of Delta Variant

August 13, 2021

In the midst of new variants, rising COVID infections, lagging vaccination rates, and increasing mandates, HR Policy’s Evolving Workplace Initiative held a session providing expert assessments of the issues presented by the current spread and an outlook of what's next for COVID variants.

The call featured Dr. Julie Gerberding, Executive Vice President and Chief Patient Officer at Merck and formerly Director of the U.S. CDC, and Dr. Peter Nigro, Chief Employee Health Officer at Merck in a discussion moderated by Ani Huang, HR Policy’s Senior Vice President.

“COVID is winning right now”:  Dr. Gerberding set the stage by noting that the Delta variant is behaving almost like a new infection, leading to a race to develop a vaccine to fight it as well as the possible need for a third dose to boost immunity.  Any future variants will have the added complication of being more vaccine-resistant.  Dr. Gerberding also explained that CDC guidance changes when the science changes, and that “change will be a constant” going forward. 

“We are not reaching everyone”:  Dr. Nigro added that companies should consider a multi-pronged communication and vaccine encouragement approach, including bringing vaccines on-site and finding the “right influencers for the right populations” within each company, then teaming with them to work through vaccine hesitancy. 

In HR Policy’s August pulse survey, we found that a fifth (20%) of member respondents will mandate the vaccine, with over a third (35%) undecided.  In addition, nearly half (46%) of respondents plan to delay their projected return to workplace date.  

The panel addressed rapidly changing CDC guidance, the rise (and wisdom) of vaccine mandates and requirements, and the future of work in a world where COVID may become a way of life.

Key takeaways: 

  • Vaccine mandates will likely proliferate through business action rather than government requirements, but with new variants keeping ahead of new vaccines, this is not a panacea.

  • A variety of approaches used together is critical to keeping employees safe. These include vaccines, masks, close attention to local infection rates, and possibly rethinking office layouts to accommodate social distancing.

  • We are at the beginning, not the end: a prolonged period of pandemic protocols is likely, given the ability of the virus to keep ahead of the science.

If you missed the panel, you can see a replay here (log-in required).

Thanks very much to all who participated, and stay tuned for future webinars and offerings as part of our Evolving Workplace Initiative.