For many companies the term “fully vaccinated” is now in question. I’m a big believer in the power of words. “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless,” said Mother Theresa. The challenge with words—besides finding just the right ones—is that their meaning can change over time.
Case in point: the words “fully vaccinated.”
With the approval of Pfizer boosters for certain populations, and Moderna and J&J requesting emergency use authorization, the term “fully vaccinated” is now in question. According to the CDC, people in the United States who have received a two-dose shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one dose J&J shot are considered fully vaccinated, without a booster. That’s today.
But this can change at any time as COVID-19 continues to evolve and more research becomes available about the efficacy of the vaccines over time.
A recent study by Pfizer and Kaiser Permanente says that the Pfizer vaccine is 90% effective at preventing hospitalization for up to six months. But the effectiveness against preventing infection does wane over time. Pfizer has been found to be 88% effective at keeping you from getting sick during the first month after vaccination, but that drops to 47 percent after five months.
Ultimately, “fully vaccinated” will mean that a person has received a booster shot forecasts Dr. Anthony Fauci. “From my own experience as an immunologist, I would not at all be surprised that the adequate, full regimen for vaccination will likely be three doses,” he said at a September White House briefing.
“fully vaccinated” HR policy and communication impacts
What if you have a vaccine mandate in place? How about if you are an employer who is encouraging vaccination for your team members? Will employees need a booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated?
For now, nobody has the answers, but that doesn’t mean employers are off the hook. First, anything that is in the headlines can cause potential confusion, concern or stress among your employees. Second, you need to be aware, because employees who were vaccinated early might be vulnerable and become infected. As time goes by, this could be true for more of your team members who are “fully vaccinated.”
Here are two approaches that every employer can take now:
1. Give a heads up to your team – Whether they express it or not, your employees will be looking to you for guidance. So you need to address the booster shot question and sooner rather than later. Acknowledge that booster shots are likely to change your workplace protocols and that you are keeping an eye on the news and government requirements. Let employees know that you are waiting for guidance from the CDC, and as soon as it comes out, you will update your policies accordingly.
When there are no clear answers, open communication with your staff shows true leadership and engenders trust.
2. Err on the side of caution – In a situation like this, you do not want to put your company and your employees in a position where you are guessing. So the best thing to do is be as conservative as possible because the health of your employees is ultimately tied to the health of your business. If you don’t have your employees healthy—whether physically or mentally—and you don’t have them engaged and on the same page as your organization, then you’re going down a path that is not going to end well.
For example, when Delta was causing a surge in infections, we decided that it was time to mask up again. What’s the harm in that? If there is one person who is protected by doing that, then it’s worth it.
Employers have to be as responsible as they can when they don’t know what could happen. That’s the part of being conservative that everyone needs to remember.