Most U.S. employers will require their workers to get COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the year, according to a new survey.
Fifty-two percent of 961 companies polled reported they will have one or more vaccine mandates in place by the fourth quarter, according to a Willis Towers Watson survey conducted last month. That marks a significant change from May, when 72% of employers said they did not plan to require their employees to get inoculated.
"The delta variant has made employers take new actions to keep their workers—and workplaces—safe and healthy. "We expect even more employers to institute vaccine mandates in the wake of [Food and Drug Administration] approval of the Pfizer vaccine," Dr. Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader at Willis Towers Watson, said in a news release. "This is not an easy situation for employers to navigate. For instance, new policies such as tracking workers' vaccinations can improve safety but also bring additional administrative requirements."
The survey findings are mirrored by the growing number of hospitals mandating vaccinations. About 40% of hospitals have announced vaccine mandates, according to the American Hospital Association's most recent tally.
Employers are implementing vaccine decrees as unvaccinated COVID-19 patients overwhelm hospitals. More than 98% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 between May and July were unvaccinated, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in a recent research brief. That led to to $2.3 billion in preventable healthcare costs, KFF estimates.
"We have reached a point in the pandemic where employers that have worked hard to make it easy for employees to get vaccinated are also considering approaches to make it more difficult for employees to remain unvaccinated," Levin-Scherz said. "While some employers will institute more frequent testing, workplace restrictions on the unvaccinated and vaccination mandates, all will have one common goal in mind—to keep their workforce healthy and productive by minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the workplace."
Nearly a third of employers surveyed by Willis Tower Watson are planning to making vaccination a requirement to gain access to the workplace, or are considering it. About one-fifth of businesses are planning or considering making vaccination a condition of employment. About 20% are using cash incentives or penalties to encourage immunizations.
Nearly 60% of companies are tracking their workers' vaccination status and 19% more plan to do so this year. The vast majority will require workers to wear masks indoors, and 75% use contract tracing.