Companies Plan Firings For Anti-Vaxers And Giveaways For Covid-19 Vaccine Recipients
Krispy Kreme gives free doughnuts, e-commerce rewards app Drop offers $50 in points for vaccination selfies. Companies Plan Firings For Anti-Vaxers And Giveaways For Covid-19 Vaccine Recipients
For more than a year, companies have tried to hone their advertising to reflect the different phases of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the U.S. undertakes the largest vaccination campaign in modern history, two companies are targeting the newly inoculated in what could be the start of the next phase of coronavirus marketing.
U.S. locations of Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corp. will give away a free glazed doughnut anytime someone flashes their Covid-19 vaccination card, and e-commerce rewards startup Drop promises $50 in points to users who share vaccination selfies, as long as they use the hashtag #DropCovid and tag @JoinDrop.
The marketing industry has reacted to the pandemic as it unfolded, starting when brands last spring pulled planned campaigns and replaced them with somber messages acknowledging the “uncertain times.” They later began cautious marketing pegged to the end of the initial lockdowns. By last month’s Super Bowl, Budweiser skipped its usual in-game commercial and promised to redirect the investment toward vaccine awareness.
Now come promotions for the vaccinated.
“We’re really looking forward to getting past Covid, and supporting people who are doing what they can to get us past that as a society by getting a shot when it’s their turn,” said Dave Skena, chief marketing officer at Krispy Kreme, part of JAB Holding Co.
Krispy Kreme said it hopes other companies make similar moves. “Marketers like me have the opportunity to do something to reach a broader audience in a way that is maybe somewhat commercial but also is just a good thing to do,” Mr. Skena said. “This is one of those situations where we’d love to be copied over and over again.”
The doughnut giveaway starts Monday and will run through the end of the year.
Incentives and rewards can help fight hesitancy among some people to get a Covid-19 vaccine, according to Derrick Fung, chief executive officer at Drop, whose promotion runs from April 2 through roughly the end of May. “We believe that brands across industries need to go beyond vaccine education and awareness and take a more active role to help accelerate Covid vaccinations,” he said.
It isn’t a trend yet.
Lyft Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. have announced initiatives to provide free or discounted transportation to vaccination centers, for example, but aren’t offering promotions to people who are already vaccinated, they said.
“We’ve been focused on helping ensure people don’t lose their chance at getting a vaccine because they lack transportation,” an Uber spokesman said.
Starbucks Corp. , which offered free coffee to front-line responders and healthcare workers at points last year during the pandemic, has lent assistance with other companies to Washington state’s vaccination drive, and is paying employees for their time while they are getting vaccinations. It isn’t offering free coffee or other incentives to vaccinated customers, however, the company said.
Observers differ on the wisdom of the new promotions.
Promotions for vaccinated people are a flawed tactic for both brand-building and public health, said Denise Lee Yohn, a brand leadership consultant and author of books including “What Great Brands Do.”
“Brands may gain exposure from whatever buzz they may create from their promotions, but they risk being perceived as opportunist or even exploitative, and they are unlikely to see any lasting lift in business,” Ms. Yohn said. “Brands that run these campaigns are favoring short-term news making over long-term brand-building.”
But Tae Wan Kim, associate professor of business ethics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, said such promotions are a win for brands and for fighting Covid-19. Consumers increasingly want to see companies doing good in addition to making profits, he said, comparing promotions for vaccinated people to giveaways for people wearing “I Voted” stickers.
Success will depend on the execution, however, Prof. Kim said. “Any marketing that weakens the graveness of the issue would better not go this way,” he said.
Mr. Skena said Krispy Kreme’s free doughnuts for vaccinated people continue the company’s efforts to connect with customers during a difficult time. It has given away doughnuts to healthcare workers, teachers and others, he said, noting that the company couldn’t manufacture masks or respirators as some others did. Krispy Kreme also plans to deliver free doughnuts to some vaccination centers and is giving employees up to four hours of paid time off to get vaccinated.
“It’s not about a single promotion,” Mr. Skena said.
Cigna Joins Companies Offering Incentives To Vaccinated Workers
For months after the first Covid-19 vaccines became available in December, people were willing to wait in line, obsessively refresh booking websites, and drive long distances for the shots.
That’s changing. Now, companies are starting to pay workers to get vaccinated, trying to encourage the hesitant or those who just haven’t had a chance to get the jab.
Cigna Corp. announced on Thursday that it will give workers who are fully vaccinated $200 in payments to their health-spending accounts, as well as emergency paid time off they can use to get their shots. Rival health insurer Anthem Inc. earlier this month said it would offer staff who get vaccinated a one-time credit toward health premiums.
Together, the moves are the latest indication that Americans who are eager to get inoculated against Covid-19 for the most part already have. More than 215 million doses have been administered, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. Keeping up the pace of vaccinations, currently at about three million a day, will mean reaching people who face barriers to getting care and encouraging those who are on the fence.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday promoted a tax credit for firms with fewer than 500 employees intended to allow their workers to take time off for vaccinations.
The coronavirus vaccines currently being used in the U.S., from Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc., carry the risk of short-term side effects such as fever or fatigue. U.S. authorities have paused use of a third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson while they investigate rare instances of more serious blood clots.
Not having paid time off to get vaccinated or recover from potential side effects may deter some workers, especially people living check-to-check. In the first days of the vaccination campaign, hospitals staggered inoculations for their workers to avoid the risk of sidelining entire departments with side effects at the same time.
Roughly half of employers in a recent survey by benefits consultant Willis Towers Watson said they’re offering incentives like time off for workers to get vaccinated, or are considering doing so. A tenth of those were using financial incentives.
Most large companies are stopping shy of requiring vaccines but trying to encourage them with nudges and incentives.
Apple Inc. and several large banks have offered paid time off for vaccinations. Workers at Target Corp. can get four hours’ pay and transportation credit, and Kroger Co. offers a $100 payment.
Amazon.com Inc. offers front-line employees as much as $80 to be immunized. Walmart Inc. provides shots at its stores and gives associates two hours of paid time off to get theirs.
New Jersey Governor Considering Cash As A Vaccine Incentive
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he is considering cash incentives to lure people to get vaccinated.
“All things are on the table,” Murphy said Friday of a potential cash lure during an interview on Fox’s “Good Day New York.” The state already is running a “Shot and a Beer” program, with free beverages at New Jersey breweries for people who can show proof of their first vaccine through May 31.
Governors and mayors are getting creative with incentives as the pace of vaccinations slow in the U.S. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on Monday announced that state workers who get a shot will be given $100. In West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice is offering $100 savings bonds for every 16- to 35-year-old who gets vaccinated. New York Yankees and Mets fans who get a shot at the stadium will get a free ticket to another game.
In a survey by the University of California at Los Angeles, one-third of unvaccinated people said cash payments of as much as $100 would make them willing to get a shot.
In New Jersey, the state has fully inoculated 3.3 million residents, about one-third of its population.
Starting today, the state is allowing patrons to sit at indoor bars, eat at buffets and dance at weddings, proms and other celebrations. Murphy also increased the outdoor gathering limit to 500 from 200, and raised the indoor events capacity to 50% from 35%. Masking and social-distancing requirements remain in place.
All capacity restrictions for indoor and outdoor businesses in New Jersey will be lifted on May 19 as part of a coordinated effort with New York and Connecticut, as hospitalizations for Covid-19 decrease and vaccinations increase.
Can Incentives Sway The Vaccine-Hesitant?
With the pace of vaccinations slowing in the U.S., some states and cities are turning to perks — from free beer to cash — to reach those reluctant to get their shot.
Though West Virginia got a fast start on its vaccination rollout and expanded Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to residents as young as 16 on March 22, the pace of vaccinations has slowed in recent weeks, especially among young adults.
With less than half of its eligible population one dose in, this cohort represents a major threat to tamping down disease — and a barrier to reaching Governor Jim Justice’s goal of inoculating more than 70% of the state.
“West Virginians from 16 to 35 years of age are transmitting this thing faster than anyone,” Justice said in a press conference on April 28. “How many people are we going to have to put in body bags? How many people are going to have to die?”
That plea — take the vaccine for the safety of you and those around you — has been echoing from many levels of government in the past few months, but reluctance remains. So Justice became one of the first U.S. public officials to suggest a more tangible reward: a $100 savings bond for every 16- to 35-year-old who gets their shot.
State officials haven’t revealed if the idea has improved vaccine uptake — and the details of implementing a mass savings-bond buy may be complicated — but the governor says he’s exploring other ways of delivering the same financial incentives.
The rapid deceleration of West Virginia’s vaccination campaign is mirrored nationwide. While more than half of U.S. adults have now received at least one shot, a Washington Post-ABC poll shows that more than half of those who remain unvaccinated don’t plan on getting one at all.
One new poll said that only 9% of U.S. adults who have not yet been vaccinated planned to do so. Finding out what would motivate those fence-sitters to change their minds has become an urgent task, if the U.S. wants to reach something near herd immunity before the variants catch up.
“We’ve got the low-hanging fruit. As we climb higher in the tree, we’re going to have to work harder for each increment of additional vaccination,” said William Schaffner, a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “And to many of us, this reluctant group came upon us sooner than we anticipated.”
Federal authorities announced a revised strategy this week, focusing on smaller-scale local inoculation programs and pop-up and mobile clinics aimed at the 43% of the population who haven’t yet been vaccinated. The Biden Administration has mobilized its Covid-19 Community Corps to reach across demographic and geographic divides to get shots in arms.
Trusted messengers will continue to play a valuable role in sharing the health benefits and safety of vaccines to those who have health concerns; improving availability in rural communities and pharmacy or transit deserts will bridge convenience gaps for the vulnerable. But to reach the most reluctant or least motivated holdouts — many of whom skew younger, male, and/or Republican, according to focus groups and surveys — cities, corporations, institutions and public health leaders are getting creative.
Would you get your second dose for a complimentary glazed donut? A free beer or a shot of tequila? A chance to win a new Camaro? Or would some cash be most likely to change your mind? Detroit Mayor Jim Duggan is offering $50 gift cards to anyone who brings other eligible Detroit residents to a vaccine site. Maryland will give its vaccinated state employees $100 each. Houston Methodist Hospital offered a $500 bonus to employees as a thank you for their work during Covid, and made getting a vaccine one of the prerequisites to receiving it.
The question is: For those who are vaccine-hesitant, how much do such perks change their calculus, and which kinds work best?
Deploying economic nudges to influence public health behavior has a long history. Some strategies, like insurance companies offering premiums to those who get gym memberships or lower rates to non-smokers, are more subtle. Others are more explicitly quid pro quo arrangements.
One 2015 trial analyzed how people’s behavior might change if they got money to lower their cholesterol, or how doctors’ guidance might change if they were compensated based on their patients’ cholesterol levels. It only showed a significant difference when both patient and doctor were paid, lowering participants’ cholesterol levels by an average of 34 percentage points.
“There’s this idea that when you share incentives across different people, they worked better than focusing on either the patients or the providers,” said Ankur Pandya, an associate professor of health decision science at Harvard University.
Maybe that takes the form of compensating both employees and employers if they have a fully vaccinated workforce — or, to take the West Virginia example, making sure states understand that incentivizing individuals to get vaccinated costs the government a whole lot less than paying for the broader toll of the disease.
Giving $100 vaccine bonds to the entirety of the state’s under-35 population will cost an estimated $27.5 million, covered by federal CARES funding. That’s a fraction of West Virginia’s spending so far on coronavirus testing, which reached $75 million, according to the Washington Post; it’s also dwarfed by the prospect of saving lives, Justice said.
Cash payments have also been used to encourage HIV prevention and consistent HIV testing and treatment among at-risk populations, with mixed effects. Covid-19 is a novel disease, however, and the stakes of vaccination and of contracting the disease differ from that of high cholesterol or HIV.
It’s also a disease that became intensely politicized, in the U.S. and elsewhere. In this uncharted territory, scientists are studying anew how financial incentives interact with decision-making.
“If the product is so appealing, why do we need to pay people to take it?”
Forthcoming research set to be published in npj Vaccines led by Sarah Kreps, a professor in Cornell University’s department of government, and four other researchers involved in epidemiology, injury prevention and pediatrics, asked more than 1,000 people to evaluate seven hypothetical vaccines based on a variety of different attributes, including side effects, efficacy, and financial inducement or cost.
They found that the prospect of being paid $100 had no statistically significant impact on whether or not people wanted the vaccine; neither did $10. Having to pay a $20 copay to get vaccinated did, however, make people less enthusiastic about the sample shot.
This month, results from a randomized survey conducted by the U.C.L.A. Covid-19 Health and Politics Project were released, this time showing that a third of unvaccinated respondents said that they’d be more likely to get vaccinated if they were given $100; a little less than a third would be more likely to get one for $50, or even $25. The $100 financial incentive had a greater impact on Democrats than Republicans.
The discrepancy in findings between the two studies could be explained in part by the time at which the research was conducted — Kreps found the incentives had no impact when surveying respondents on hypothetical vaccines in October 2020, before the real-life rollout had started; the U.C.L.A. team has been continuously talking to subjects over the past 10 months, so it includes the early and ongoing stages of the vaccination campaign.
Another recent paper argued that there’s a chance that incentives could backfire. For those already nervous about vaccine side effects or safety, payments could make the shot seem more risky, some researchers warn. As Kreps put it, her team’s hunch “is that paying people causes people to be suspicious about why a financial incentive would be necessary — in other words, if the product is so appealing, why do we need to pay people to take it?”
Introducing financial motivations could also erode one of the clearest, most fundamental arguments for vaccination — that personal immunity benefits the collective good — in favor of a more selfish perk. “The idea there is that the extrinsic motivation of the money crowds out the intrinsic motivation of them just wanting to do it,” said Pandya.
Nancy Jecker, a professor of bioethics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, has a different concern with the idea of giving cash payments to spur vaccination: The practice may have an outsized coercive effect on lower-income groups.
“It can create undue inducement for someone who is unemployed, or who has a family member that is, depending on the size of the incentive,” Jecker said. A $500 bonus from a hospital would be less of a factor for an anesthesiologist than for the cafeteria worker, she said.
Jecker argues that there are less coercive ways to get people on board, like clear communication from community members and trusted leaders; enhanced education and access for harder-to-reach groups, and advertising the benefits of being able to see family safely and travel again.
Indeed, the U.C.L.A. survey found that for unvaccinated Republicans, especially, the prospect of dropping mask mandates enhanced willingness to get vaccinated as much as the $25 did.
That’s the tack West Virginia will take in the next phase of its get-the-shot campaign: This week, Governor Justice announced that he’d only drop the state’s mask mandate when the vaccination rate improves.
Meanwhile, the menu of post-shot giveaways has expanded dramatically since March, when Krispy Kreme announced that they’d give a donut a day throughout 2021 to those who showed their vaccination card, kicking off a domino effect of perks (along with backlash from anti-vaccination activists, and muted concern from public health experts who fretted about the long-term effects of a daily donut). The company said it did not yet have an update on how many people had taken advantage of the offer.
In April, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced that some restaurants would be giving out free drinks to those who flashed their vaccine ID along with their regular ID. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined the free-beer train.
On April 20, cannabis activists handed out joints to people in New York City and D.C. with a vaccination card, to celebrate the auspicious weed holiday while celebrating social responsibility. At the Snoqualmie tribal vaccination clinic in Seattle, some of the inoculated went home with tree saplings to nurture. Seattle Sounders pro soccer games now come with a walk-up vaccination clinic.
So is there any real harm in handing out some free stuff? Probably not, says Vanderbilt’s Schaffner. “The joke is, if you want residents to come to an educational conference, provide food. They’ll be there for that.”
But practical incentives, such as paid time off to make it to an appointment and allow for side-effect recovery, are the best sell, he says. “One way to incentivize is to cover transportation costs, or reimburse people for their time off … so that people don’t incur expenses by doing the right thing,” added Jecker. “That, to me, is a way of covering costs without creating undue inducement, and it’s also a way of making vaccination more accessible to those who are most vulnerable.”
Outside the U.S., the vaccine outreach story looks very different. As a devastating surge of new Covid cases strains fragile medical systems in India and South America, vaccines remain scarce or unavailable in many communities. There may appear to be less need to bribe people with snacks to get shots, but vaccine hesitancy is a major challenge in places that have struggled to mount inoculation campaigns.
In Mexico City, for example, the city has filled vaccine sites with a range of entertainment options, including live music, yoga classes and appearances by a troupe of Lucha Libre wrestlers, to boost turnout and ease anxieties.
Aided by grant funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, cities in 18 countries will be getting up to $50,000 in funding to optimize their vaccination campaigns from the beginning. Buenos Aires, for example, will dispatch formerly homeless outreach workers to encourage vaccination among isolated, elderly and hesitant residents; transgender people will do the same with their communities in hard-hit Rio de Janeiro. (Disclosure: Michael Bloomberg is the founder and owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company for Bloomberg CityLab.)
“We have not started mass vaccination of the population yet. However, national surveys have shown that there is a degree of vaccine hesitancy,” fostered by fears about side effects and a preference toward natural immunity by contracting the virus, said Dan Plato, mayor of Cape Town, South Africa, in an email.
With its grant, the city plans to flood the radio and paper minibus taxis with vaccine ads, and try to reach the half a million unhoused people, as well as residents without cell phones, with mobile registration sites.
More rigorous testing will be needed to see what incentive campaigns work, researchers say: Are they reaching people who wouldn’t have been vaccinated otherwise? Are they balancing social pressure with preserving autonomy? Are they meeting people where they’re at?
“You really want to make sure that they’re not going in the opposite direction,” said Harvard’s Pandya. “And it’s worth knowing if they’re having no effect, because you could use that money to in other ways to help promote vaccinations. It’s a question of where you want to allocate your resources.”
Biden Announces Free Rides, Partnerships To Boost Vaccination
President Joe Biden announced new efforts to vaccinate more of the nation — including an expansion of free rides from Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. — as many Americans’ reluctance to get inoculated threatens to encumber the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.
“Americans from every walk of life are getting their vaccines,” Biden said during a virtual meeting with governors from states including Massachusetts, Utah, Ohio, New Mexico, Maine and Minnesota. “We’ve got to do more, though.”
Biden has said the U.S. is in a new phase of its vaccination campaign as domestic demand weakens. The country is administering about 2.1 million shots a day, down from 3.4 million about a month ago, even though there’s enough supply to give more.
But coronavirus cases are falling at an even faster pace than vaccinations. The U.S. reported 21,767 new cases on Sunday, the lowest daily total since June 2020. In early April, the country was still averaging more than 60,000 new cases a day, according to federal data.
Lyft and Uber will offer free rides through July 4 to anyone going to get vaccinated in the U.S., the White House said on Tuesday. It’s an expansion of programs they were providing to some low-income users in cooperation with pharmacies and non-profits.
The Biden administration and its federal pharmacy partners are seeking to start on-site vaccination clinics at community colleges in a bid to inoculate students, staff and those in nearby communities. The White House said it had selected community colleges because of the diversity of their student populations.
Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive officer, and John Zimmer, Lyft’s president, urged Americans to get vaccinated in separate statements confirming the expanded programs.
The pool of people who will eagerly seek out a vaccine appointment is all but exhausted, leading the government to shift its attention to those willing to take it but who don’t want to go out of their way.
The administration’s moves include winding down mass vaccination clinics while steering more shots to rural and mobile sites. Some states are offering incentives: West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has proposed giving a $100 savings bond to anyone age 16-35 who gets a shot, while leaders in New Jersey, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., have offered beers and shots of liquor.
“We always expected we’d be in a different phase,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “And it means we have to work extra hard to get into communities, to have partnerships with local doctors, with primary care physicians, to expand access, expand mobile units that are going into communities to get the supply out to people.”
Biden and his team have repeatedly dismissed any suggestion of requiring vaccination or creating a federal registry of people who have received shots, instead focusing on increasing information about vaccine safety and efficacy and access to shots.
Biden’s latest target calls for 70% of U.S. adults to receive at least one shot by July 4; about 58% have gotten one as of now.
Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a top Biden medical adviser, said reaching the president’s target likely will prevent major flare-ups later this year.
“The larger proportion of the population that’s vaccinated, the less likelihood that in a season like the coming fall or winter you’re going to see a significant surge,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday.
Amazon Lottery Offers Vaccinated Workers Cars, $500,000 Cash
Amazon.com Inc. — summoning its inner Oprah — will offer cash prizes of as much as $500,000 as well as cars and vacation packages to frontline employees who can prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Unwilling so far to mandate vaccinations for its 1.3-million-strong workforce, the world’s largest online retailer is hoping a corporate lottery — called Max Your Vax — will persuade holdouts to get the jab. The announcement, a copy of which was seen Friday by Bloomberg, came the same day that Amazon said that starting Aug. 9 workers would have to wear masks in its logistics facilities, regardless of vaccination status — a reflection of the severity of the spreading delta variant of the coronavirus. Vaccinated workers had been able to work at Amazon mask-free since late May.
Amazon had previously offered frontline workers as much as $80 if they were inoculated against the virus. The company is desperate for workers to keep up with elevated demand from online shoppers and staff dozens of new facilities coming online. Some frontline Amazonians and their managers said the company is concerned mandates would send vaccine skeptics in their ranks in search of other jobs.
Amazon’s contest will offer a total of 18 prizes, which the company values at almost $2 million: two $500,000 cash awards, six $100,000 awards, five new vehicles and five vacation packages.
“We strongly believe that the best way to protect our front-line employees and communities from Covid-19 is through vaccinations,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in an email. “And we are proud to have hosted more than 1,100 on-site vaccination events to help make getting a vaccination as easy as possible for our employees and their household members.”
Amazon shares fell 0.9% on Friday to $3,344.94. Shares have gained more than 80% since the start of last year as Covid-19 lockdowns boosted online shopping.
The company is not the first to hand out prizes to win over vaccine skeptics. Cash lotteries popped up in several U.S. states during the initial rollout, Hong Kong offered gold bars and a diamond Rolex, and a Russian company raffled off a snowmobile.
Amazon’s contest is open to its frontline workers. That’s mostly people who work in warehouses and other logistics facilities, but also hourly workers at Whole Foods Market and Amazon Fresh grocery stores and in Amazon Web Services data centers.
These Are The U.S. Companies Requiring Covid Vaccines For Employees
To mandate, or not to mandate?
That is the question facing corporations right now as they weigh the pros and cons of requiring a Covid-19 vaccine for employees. The answers, so far, are all over the place.
A Bloomberg compilation of policies of more than 100 big companies found that about half have implemented a vaccine mandate for at least some of their U.S. staff, but the requirements vary widely. For many, the measure applies to anyone entering a U.S. office—but that can leave wide swaths of the workforce unaffected. Walmart Inc., for instance, hasn’t required its more than 1 million store and warehouse workers to get jabbed. For roughnecks on oil rigs, it might depend where they’re drilling.
Don’t look for similarities within industries or geographies, either. The state of Texas doesn’t cotton to mandates of any kind, but don’t tell that to Dallas-based AT&T Inc., which will require management to be vaccinated starting Oct. 11.
United Airlines Holdings Inc. also made inoculations mandatory, and is one of a handful of firms that will fire those who don’t comply, while rival Delta Air Lines Inc. is instead levying a $200 monthly surcharge on the unvaccinated.
Even Wall Street banks, generally the most keen to get workers back in seats, aren’t in line on the subject: As of Sept. 9, JPMorgan Chase & Co. hasn’t mandated the vaccine, while many of its peers have.
What’s clear is that the massive post-Labor Day migration back to American offices isn’t happening as planned. Meanwhile, U.S. regulatory approval of Pfizer Inc.’s shot last month has prompted a growing number of companies to consider mandates as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.
More than half of employers might have a requirement by the end of the year, according to consultant Willis Towers Watson, more than double the 21% that currently do.
Still, roughly 14% of American adults say they don’t intend to get the shot. To persuade them, companies are offering everything from gift cards (such as supermarket chain Publix) to a lottery with payouts of up to $500,000 (courtesy of Amazon.com Inc.). For retailers and others with lots of frontline workers, a few hours’ pay is a popular carrot.
Those incentives, though, won’t convince many vaccine resisters, many of whom will now work from home, if possible—or in some cases, look for a new job.
Biden Orders Shots For Millions, Calling Unvaccinated A Threat
President Joe Biden said he’d order all executive branch employees, federal contractors and millions of health-care workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, and that his administration would issue rules requiring large private employers to mandate shots or testing.
The new measures are Biden’s response to a resurgent Covid-19 pandemic driven by the delta variant of the virus and by tens of millions of Americans who have refused to be vaccinated. Federal employees who don’t comply could be dismissed, the administration said, and private employers might be fined.
Biden also delivered some of his harshest criticism yet of the 25% of U.S. adults who’ve so far not been inoculated, saying that they’re dragging out the pandemic that has claimed more than 650,000 lives in the U.S.
“My message to unvaccinated Americans is this: What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see?” he said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us, so please, do the right thing.”
His latest plan, the president said, would “combat those blocking public health” and also “protects our economy and will make our kids safer in schools.”
The directives mark a significant hardening of the administration’s position on vaccine mandates amid the surge by the delta variant that threatens to overwhelm hospitals in parts of the U.S.
The federal workforce mandate faced a muted initial reaction, with business and labor groups issuing cautious responses and saying they’d work with the administration.
Under Biden’s new approach, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration will develop an emergency regulation requiring companies with 100 or more employees to require staff to be vaccinated or tested weekly, and to give paid time off to get inoculated.
Employers could face fines of nearly $14,000 per violation, one official said. It is expected to take effect in the coming weeks, the official said.
“This is not about freedom or personal choice,” Biden said in a speech from the White House — a swipe at Republican elected officials, including some governors, who have said the opposite.
“It’s about protecting yourself and those around you. The people you work with. The people you care about, the people you love. My job as president is to protect all Americans,” Biden said.
Biden will also require vaccinations for more than 17 million health-care workers at Medicare and Medicaid participating hospitals and in other health-care settings, a significant expansion of an existing requirement aimed at nursing homes.
The federal government will require vaccinations for staff at Head Start and Early Head Start programs, teachers and staff at Department of Defense schools, and teachers and staff at schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education.
Biden will call on states to require vaccines in all schools — a call sure to go unheeded in deeply Republican parts of the country — and on large entertainment venues to require patrons to prove vaccination or a negative test. He said he’d boost weekly shipments of monoclonal antibodies to states by 50% this month.
He also said he would loosen regulations around the Covid Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, to spur the economic recovery by making it easier for small businesses to borrow. He also said he’d streamline applications for Paycheck Protection Program loans to be forgiven.
The executive branch is on strong footing to require staff vaccinations, particularly since the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech vaccine received full approval, rather than just emergency authorization, according to Glenn Cohen, a law professor at Harvard Law School. The OSHA rule is likely to face the most legal challenges, with likely litigation over whether the agency is exceeding its authority.
The U.S. will spend nearly $2 billion to buy 280 million rapid tests as part of an effort to expand testing, and use the wartime Defense Production Act to expand manufacturing of tests. The administration will also send 25 million tests to community health centers and food banks.
Biden said that Walmart Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Kroger. Co. supermarkets will sell at-home, rapid Covid-19 tests at cost for the next three months.
In addition, the president is proceeding with a plan to start booster shots as soon as Sept. 20, subject to approval from health officials. Officials expect to begin giving Pfizer-BioNTech boosters at first.
The administration also said it would double fines for people who refuse to wear a mask during interstate travel, including on airplanes.
Biden’s order for federal workers goes further than requirements he announced on July 29, which included an option for on-site federal contractors to choose testing instead of vaccination. Now, Biden is mandating vaccines for contractors.
One of his executive orders, issued Thursday for contractors, calls for the new requirement to be in place for contracts entered into on or after Oct. 15. It will apply to any workplace locations “in which an individual is working on or in connection with a Federal Government contract or contract-like instrument.”
There will be “limited exceptions” to Biden’s new federal worker mandate, including for religious objections or for those with disabilities, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.
Employees who refuse will “face progressive disciplinary action” that could include dismissal, she said.
Psaki said it would take effect when Biden signs it, with a “ramp up” period of about 75 days. The executive order for federal workers, also issued Thursday, called for guidance to be released within 7 days.
Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union for federal workers, voiced support for vaccines but also indicated that the new order should be negotiated with the labor groups.
“Workers deserve a voice in their working conditions,” Kelley said in a statement.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, a voluntary group, called the move misguided. “Vaccination should be promoted through education and encouragement — not coercion,” President Larry Cosme said in a statement.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it would “carefully review the details” of the announcement, and will press for businesses to have the “resources, guidance, and flexibility necessary.” The Business Roundtable welcomed Biden’s “vigilance” and said it “looks forward to continue working with the administration and leaders across all levels of government to defeat the pandemic.”
The Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and the National Institutes of Health are all implementing previously announced vaccination requirements that cover 2.5 million workers, according to the administration.
While the White House doesn’t have the power to require vaccinations nationally, it has pointed to an emerging patchwork of employer vaccine requirements as a key factor driving a new wave of inoculations.
Surge In Cases
The push to force large employers to act comes on the heels of a dismal August payrolls report, which showed a much lower than expected 235,000 jobs added in the month. Employers are struggling to find workers with a record number of job openings and may face attrition if they force vaccination.
Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University, praised elements of the Biden plan, like the vaccine requirement for large private employers, but said more action is needed.
“That’s excellent. That protects workers,” she said. “But I wish the federal government went a lot further when it came to planes and trains and other places that it has direct authority.”
Eric Toner, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, described the Biden actions on Thursday as efforts to increase compliance with vaccination and mask-wearing.
“They’re covering the things that I think are most important, which are mandatory vaccination, to the extent that is lawful, and mandatory masking, to the extent that it’s lawful,” he said.
Biden focused on curbing the pandemic in the early months of his presidency, and by the July 4 holiday he spoke optimistically about the country declaring its “independence” from the virus after a dramatic decline in cases and deaths. But the vaccination campaign slowed, in part because of misinformation spread online and opposition among Republicans, even as restrictions were eased.
The U.S. recorded 176,000 new cases on Wednesday, far above the roughly 10,000 a day seen in June when the pandemic was at its ebb, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Another 2,143 people in the U.S. died from the virus on Wednesday.
Vaccinations ticked back up over the last month. But Biden pointed out that leaves a quarter of eligible Americans — some 80 million people, he said — without a shot.
“The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing,” he said. “That 25% can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”
Don’t Fret About A Backlash To Biden Vaccine Mandate
Remember that many unvaccinated Americans aren’t hardcore resisters, just people who need a push. The president gave them one.
In the wake of President Joe Biden’s announcement on Thursday of new, more aggressive tactics against the Covid-19 pandemic, including expanded vaccine mandates, some of those who support vaccination are worried that it could all backfire.
National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar put it this way: “Unfortunate consequence of this speech — by forcing American vaccine holdouts to choose between vaccine and job — will be to harden opposition to vaccinations.”
That’s plausible. And there’s some polling that suggests opposition to the vaccine is so strong that some people might quit their jobs rather than comply. Or even worse? If enough employees strongly resist, then employers will resist, and the policy will be impossible to enforce. It’s also likely that widespread opposition, if it happens, would make the courts more likely to put a stop to it.
On the other hand, the whole point of turning to mandates now — something Biden had been notably reluctant to do — is that persuasion hasn’t been sufficiently effective so far.
Mandates are a form of persuasion. Making shots a requirement or near-requirement for employment raises the costs of not getting vaccinated. So do vaccination requirements in gyms, concerts and other public places. It’s true that the hardest resisters may choose to “pay” those costs by switching gyms, skipping concerts or sporting events, or even by quitting a job they would otherwise keep.
It’s a mistake, however, to believe that everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated is a hardcore opponent of vaccination. I’d guess that quite a few of those who haven’t been vaccinated haven’t really thought about it much.
Sure, they might come up with an explanation if a pollster asks them for one, but for many people, not getting vaccinated is less a decision than it is just the path of least resistance. Folks are busy, or lazy, or just have other priorities.
Vaccine mandates, seen in this way, work not so much because they force anyone to do anything, but because they make doing something — getting the shots — easier than not doing it.
I’d be skeptical of the polling on this topic. Humans are bad at predicting their own reactions to hypotheticals, and at attributing actions to the proper causes. It’s one thing for someone to say she’d quit her job if vaccinations were required; it’s another to actually do it.
People are more likely to attribute their actions — in this case, avoiding the vaccine — to something that seems like a principle rather than to laziness.
It’s also plausible that partial workplace compliance will encourage others to go along. Even at this late date, there are still those who don’t know how to go about getting their shots; don’t know that it’s free; don’t know that side effects are usually minimal or nonexistent.
(A guy in my pickup basketball game, which was revived this summer with a vaccination mandate, told his friends that he had no idea how to get his shots. He’s playing now. I still can’t guard him).
None of this is to predict that Biden’s initiative will be a smashing success, although some early indications are that mandates or mandate-like policies seem to work.
The flip side of skepticism about people accurately predicting their own behavior to pollsters is that the same applies to public opinion, so we should also regard polls about mandates taken before the policy was announced with skepticism. It could play out differently.
That said, we know a couple of things. First, as Ariel Edwards-Levy of CNN reminds us, a landslide’s worth of Americans have already been vaccinated. They may not all be frustrated with the minority who have not had their shots, but a lot of them probably are.
Second, we know that about 93% of those 65 and older have had at least one shot, and that the number is still rising. That success, among the demographic that’s also the biggest audience for Fox News, suggests that most vaccine reluctance is less deep-seated than it seems.
And the most important thing? As long as the policy is implemented and succeeds in getting people vaccinated, and of course assuming that more vaccinations means a lot less pandemic, then it doesn’t really matter whether the policy is popular or not. What matters, for Biden’s presidency as well as for the nation, is ending the pandemic and delivering a strong economy. If that happens, no one is going to care whether the vaccine mandate was popular.
Philippines Sets Smaller Lockdowns, Perks For Vaccinated
The Philippines will impose smaller and targeted lockdowns and provide perks for the vaccinated amid a fragile economic recovery and elevated Covid-19 infections.
Metro Manila, which accounts for a third of economic output, will pilot test the Southeast Asian nation’s new virus response strategy from Sept. 16. Cities in the capital region will all be under the second-most stringent alert under a five-level system during the first week, the Department of Health said on Tuesday, citing increasing case count and the high hospital utilization rate.
Infections in the Philippines have hit more than 2.2 million, following a record 26,303 cases on Saturday, based on Health Department data. About 15% of the population are fully vaccinated.
“During this time we must ramp-up active case finding, conduct risk-based testing using RT-PCR, and fast track vaccination among high-risk groups,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a statement. The government has decided to lock down smaller areas, or from village to household level, as 80% of infections come only from a small proportion of villages in the capital region, she said.
Prior to the new strategy, wide lockdowns due to the delta variant have dimmed hopes for an economic recovery, with the government lowering growth outlook for this year to 4% to 5%.
* Under alert level 4, indoor restaurants and beauty salons in Metro Manila can operate at 10% capacity and accommodate only fully-vaccinated individuals; outdoor dining is allowed at 30% capacity even for the unvaccinated
* The curfew in the capital region will be shortened to six hours or from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. starting Sept. 16. from eight hours previously
* A granular lockdown of at least 14 days will be imposed on houses, buildings, streets or villages where Covid-19 cases are prevalent
* All businesses can operate at full capacity under alert level 1, while areas under alert level 5 will be under a strict lockdown
* Gyms, casinos, indoor tourist spots can operate at 30% capacity under alert level 3, and at half capacity under alert level 2; in-person religious gatherings will be allowed in varying capacities under alert levels 1 to 4
Biden To Meet Microsoft, Disney Executives On Vaccine Mandates
President Joe Biden will meet with executives who’ve taken steps to require employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, as the president touts his push for businesses across the U.S. to drive a new wave of inoculations.
Biden will meet at the White House on Wednesday with Brad Smith, president of Microsoft Corp.; Bob Chapek, chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company; Roz Brewer, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.; Tim Boyle, president and CEO of Columbia Sportswear Co.; Greg Adams, chair and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, and others, according to an official familiar with the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Biden will emphasize that businesses that have required Covid-19 shots have seen sharp increases in vaccination rates in short periods of time, the official said. White House officials hope the event serves as a rallying cry for other workplaces, the official said.
Biden’s guests have taken a series of different steps — for instance, Microsoft is requiring vaccinations for people entering the company’s offices, while Walgreens requires shots for office staff and is working to expand that mandate, the official said.
The meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Other attendees include Josh Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable; William Tate IV, president of Louisiana State University; and Madeline Bell, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Biden last week announced that he would require all federal employees and contractors to get vaccinated, expanding a rule that previously offered a testing alternative. He also announced that the Department of Labor would develop a workplace safety rule requiring that companies with 100 or more employees either require vaccination or offer weekly testing. That rule is still in development, and it’s not clear when it will take effect.
Many Insurers Have Stopped Waiving The Cost Of Covid Treatment. Is That Fair?
Americans have long faced high and rising deductibles. The idea behind out-of-pocket costs is to make patients think twice about whether they really need care.
But in a public-health crisis, we don’t want costs to be the reason people think twice about getting vaccinated or tested. It’s important to minimize financial barriers to accessing preventive care. That’s why in 2020, Congress passed bipartisan laws making Covid-19 testing and vaccination free at the point of service in most circumstances.
At the onset of the pandemic, there was also talk of whether private health insurers should have to cover the full cost of Covid-19 treatment. Treatment of Covid-19 is not prevention as the patient is already sick, but a hospitalization can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Privately insured patients are often on the hook for at least a thousand dollars, even more if they are in a higher deductible health plan.
But Congress never passed a federal mandate that private insurers fully cover Covid-19 treatment; only testing and vaccination have federal coverage mandates.
Paradoxically, health insurers were quite profitable at the onset of the pandemic because Americans sheltering in place and social distancing used less healthcare. As a nation, we had fewer routine appointments, cancer screenings, and elective procedures.
At its nadir in April 2020, health spending was 32% below the previous year, meaning insurers paid out much less in medical claims than they had expected when they set their premiums the year before.
Perhaps motivated in part to forestall a federal mandate to pay for Covid-19 treatment, health insurers covering almost 9 in 10 people in the commercial market voluntarily waived out-of-pocket costs associated with Covid-19 hospitalizations.
It’s worth noting that private health insurers would have to pay back some of these high profits anyway, due to a provision in the Affordable Care Act that limits how much insurers can keep in profits and overhead. So waiving Covid-19 treatment costs was in many cases a free way for insurers to build goodwill. In the absence of a federal mandate, insurers control the switch: They can turn these treatment cost waivers on and off as circumstances change.
In 2021, everything started changing. Health spending has mostly rebounded (though it remains somewhat below what it likely would have been if the pandemic never happened). So insurers are not nearly as profitable this year as they were at the onset of the pandemic. There is also now widespread availability of Covid-19 vaccines, which are free to the public.
Despite the fact that these vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization, vaccination rates have lagged in the U.S. The Delta variant has caused surging cases once again.
Just since June, there have been more than 287,000 Covid-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults, almost all of which would have been prevented if those patients had been fully vaccinated.
These hospitalizations are not only devastating to patients, families, and caregivers, but also come with a hefty price tag: Preventable hospitalizations cost society $5.7 billion in just three months this summer.
Executives at private insurance companies probably started wondering whether they should still be waiving out-of-pocket costs for Covid-19 treatment when it became clear that the vast majority of hospitalizations are among people who could have gotten a free vaccine.
Indeed, many insurers started reinstituting cost sharing Covid-19 hospitalizations this year. Of the two largest health plans in each state, 7 in 10 no longer waive treatment costs. Many of the insurers that still waive these costs expect to stop in the next couple months.
Because the Affordable Care Act and other federal laws generally prohibit insurers from discriminating against people based on their health status, which includes vaccination status, insurers can’t simply charge people higher premiums if they refuse to get vaccinated.
There is some flexibility around employer wellness plans, which Delta Airlines is using to charge its unvaccinated employees more for their premium contributions.
As we have seen, private insurers can easily reinstate the same out-of-pocket costs for Covid-19 treatment as they can for, say, cancer patients. Still, that leaves some people who cannot get the vaccine (particularly parents of hospitalized children under the vaccine eligibility age) on the hook for high medical bills now that these waivers are expiring.
Similarly, the people who did get vaccinated and were nonetheless hospitalized with Covid-19 will also be on the hook for their deductible if their insurer no longer waives these costs.
This raises important questions about the fairness of how healthcare costs are distributed in the U.S. Should the costs of Covid treatment be borne by the patient or by taxpayers, businesses, and employees paying insurance premiums?
Should an unvaccinated Covid-19 patient have no hospital bill at all, while the cancer patient in the room next to them struggles to afford life-saving treatment? Should insurers be allowed to discriminate based on vaccination status, the same way they can against smokers, or is that a slippery slope toward discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions?
Getting to the heart of all of this is a more fundamental question of why healthcare costs are so high in the U.S. Should one in every five dollars spent in the U.S. go to healthcare, when people in other wealthy countries spend half that and live longer lives? If the U.S. could better rein in health costs, the stakes would be lower.
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