A template letter for employers who decide not to implement mandatory vaccination, explaining their position. For use in South Africa.
Like many other employers across South Africa, we have for some time, sat with the question of whether or not to require you, our employees, to be vaccinated against COVID-19. We have decided that it is ethically wrong to discriminate by imposing vaccination as a condition of employment. We have employed measures to ensure that our work environment is appropriately safe given the risk that COVID-19 presents. It is also not legal or consistent with our corporate culture or compatible with the environment we think will attract the most talented workers. Our decision in this regard is consistent with our approach to other viruses.
Because we understand that some of you may feel uncomfortable about this, we wish to explain our decision.
COVID-19 has been foremost on our minds for nearly two years. The focus on a single cause of death is unprecedented in history and this makes it difficult to retain perspective. Less than 5% of deaths since 1 January 2020 were deaths with COVID-19. Cancer has claimed more than three times the number of victims in that time and cardiovascular disease more than four times the number of victims. We turned to the World Health Organisation (the “WHO”) for assistance in determining the extent of the risk that COVID-19 poses. The WHO measures virus risk using the “Infection Fatality Rate”. This reflects how many people who were infected with a virus died. The IFR for Ebola, for example, is 60%. This means that 600 out of 1,000 people infected with Ebola die from it. The IFR for flu is between 0.1% and 0.2%, meaning 2 in 1,000 infections result in death. According to the WHO, the global median IFR for COVID-19 is 0.15%, meaning less than 2 in 1,000 people who are infected die. Expressed differently, the table below sets out the global survival rate for people of different ages who are infected with COVID-19.
Despite harsh lockdown measures implemented early in South Africa, we have fared no better than other countries and arguably worse. Even if we accept that more people have actually died than our system has captured, the survival rate in South Africa is consistent with the WHO’s global numbers and in excess of 99%. As a company, we do not currently require vaccination for any of a host of other diseases that have similar or worse infection fatality rates. Our employees face higher risks from any number of other work activities and we do not feel justified in forcing our employees to vaccinate against a virus that presents a risk of this nature.
In researching the issues, we also came to the conclusion that mandatory vaccination is unnecessary. The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently being deployed do not prevent infection or transmission. There is no convincing evidence that they materially reduce transmission. Indeed, it seems that there is in fact no difference between the viral loads carried by vaccinated and unvaccinated people. We therefore see no basis for the argument that vaccinated people pose less of a risk to our clients or other employees than unvaccinated people. Indeed, we also discovered that those of our employees who have recovered from COVID-19 pose a substantially lower risk to those around them than vaccinated people do and it would be indefensible to require a recovered person to vaccinate.
The vaccines will also not rid the world of COVID-19. Not only will it be practically impossible to vaccinate every person on the planet, but because the vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission and because animals are carriers of the virus, it cannot be eliminated through vaccines. The argument that we should impose vaccination for the greater good of society is therefore without merit and the promise that the vaccines will bring a return to normal cannot be fulfilled.
Whilst it seems that some of the vaccines have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing hospitalisation and death, this does not seem to be the case for all of the vaccines and it is also not clear that this protection will be enduring. Data from Israel, which has vaccinated substantially all of its adult population, shows that infections still occur in large numbers. [Israel currently has the highest number of active cases of any country in the world.]
It would seem that if we implemented a mandatory vaccination scheme, we would be required to verify vaccination every 6-8 months. It would require an extensive investment in human resources to be able to implement a system that can monitor compliance by each employee and take appropriate action against those who miss a vaccination. We would essentially be operating a permanent redundancy scheme.
All medical treatments present a risk. Whilst it has been suggested that the side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to be serious, the vaccine manufacturers accept no liability for any harm they may cause. Ordinarily a manufacturer would be liable, but these vaccines are being distributed under emergency conditions recognising that they have not been subjected to the same safety verifications that other vaccines undergo. There has been a significant increase in the number of vaccine-related adverse events reported since the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. The risk/benefit analysis is particularly skewed for younger employees.
Put simply, we cannot say definitively that there are no material risks involved in taking these vaccines. As a company, we would be exposed to liability if we compelled someone to be vaccinated and they were injured as a result. This would be a choice that we make, as the government has made it clear that they will never mandate the vaccines and consequently our liability would be heightened. We have investigated the possibility of insuring the company against our exposure and find that no such insurance is offered. We would not be in a position to keep track of the rapidly developing science around the vaccines without making a significant investment and we do not feel that if we implement a mandatory scheme, we can ensure that our exposure can be properly managed over time.
President Rampahosa has stated that the government will not mandate vaccines because it believes that such a system would be unconstitutional. We believe that as a company we are also required to respect the Constitution. Furthermore, we believe that it would not be consistent with labour laws for us to enforce a mandatory scheme for the majority of our employees. We would need to exclude people who have recovered from COVID-19 as well as those who have specific religious or cultural objections and our analysis suggests that the employees who would be most at risk of losing their jobs are those who tend to earn the least. The implementation of the system would amount to a change to the terms and conditions of employment which poses additional challenges. We are obliged by law to find less imposing means of managing the risk.
In light of the above, it is our considered view that a mandatory vaccination scheme would be impractical, it would be illegal, it would provide no additional protection to our clients and co-workers and its implementation would expose the company to significant additional cost and risk.
We trust our employees to manage their risk appropriately, to be responsible citizens and we are therefore leaving the decision on vaccination to you. The company’s resources would be better deployed in providing alternatives for those clients and employees who have concerns and in supporting infected employees. We believe that this approach is consistent with the company’s values, our moral and legal obligations and that it will foster an environment that will help us to attract and retain top talent.
Photo by Lagos Techie on Unsplash
A template letter that can be edited as needed when an employer mandates a COVID-19 vaccine for employees. For use in South Africa.