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April 16, 2021

Top COVID expert urges business to take a more active role in promoting vaccination

Photo | CT MIrror Mikaela Coady, a physician assistant with Priority Urgent Care of Ellington, fills a syringe with a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at St. Bernard Church in the Rockville section of Vernon.

Businesses can play a key role in ending the COVID-19 pandemic by publicly endorsing vaccinations and encouraging employees to get the shot, a top national expert said Wednesday. 

“The single biggest thing companies can do overall in terms of promoting public health in America and economic recovery is promoting good information, amplifying the voice of science and evidence and public policy,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, a high-level advisor to the Biden administration and dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.

Jha spoke at a virtual event sponsored by the Travelers Institute, the educational arm of the insurance giant with major Hartford operations.

Small and medium-sized firms can adapt public health messages to their own industries and customer needs while encouraging vaccination through social media and other outlets, Jha said. “Amplifying good scientific voices is really, really important... it also builds trust,” he said.

The pandemic may even present opportunities for companies that step in with solutions on  validating vaccination status and creating “vaccine passports” that allow for safer gatherings. The Biden administration has indicated the federal government will not wade into that contentious issue, Jha said, and he said he has already been contacted by companies seeking to play a role.

“Once you realize there is a huge value for private business and private industry to have [vaccination status] authentication, the question is who does that,” Jha said. “You’re going to see private sector solutions for this.”

Mandating vaccination in the workplace is legal with the proper exemptions and can help businesses and society as a whole get back to normal, Jha said. 

“One of the things I’ve been talking about with a lot of companies is how do you bring people back safely,” Jha said. “Just make sure everybody’s vaccinated. If you have fully vaccinated workplaces, you can do pretty much what we were doing in 2019 — you don’t need to be wearing a mask, you don’t need to be doing social distancing.”

Requiring employee vaccinations also helps the nation’s efforts to achieve herd or population immunity, Jha added. Vaccination efforts have “hit a wall” in several states where mistrust of the medications is high and vaccine hesitancy is common, Jha added. Without achieving at least an 80% vaccination rate, the U.S. could face years of cyclical surges in infections, hospitalizations and deaths. 

“Whatever companies can do in their own way to promote [vaccinations] — through their employees, through the broader community of their customers — I think that would be really, really impactful,” Jha said. “We've all got to move beyond this pandemic.”


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