A senior medical consultant and member of Medcan’s Medical Advisory Services Team, Dr. Alain Sotto is a nationally-recognized occupational health and safety specialist who has advised some of the country’s biggest organizations through COVID-19, as well as the SARS crisis and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Excerpted from Ep. 43 of the Medcan podcast, Eat Move Think. Find the complete transcript on the Eat Move Think website, or listen to the full episode on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Employers have an important role to play in vaccine distribution, argues Dr. Alain Sotto, because the more immunity that exists among a workforce, the faster that company can return to some semblance of post-pandemic normalcy. The Medcan senior medical consultant distills the employer role into a model he calls “Sotto’s Four Es.”
Lots of misinformation and confusion exists around vaccines. To dispel rumours, Dr. Sotto believes companies should conduct employee-facing education campaigns. The takeaway? “This is a vaccine that will protect you, whether it’s 70 percent, 80 percent or 90 percent efficacy,” Dr. Sotto says. Another important point would clarify an element of the “90 percent” efficacy rate. Dr. Sotto says that even the 10 percent receive some protective benefits from the vaccine. So if they do get COVID-19, it likely won’t be as severe.
This piece sees employers helping their workforce to access evidence-based, scientifically vetted facts about the vaccine, and the pandemic overall. “You need to empower employees in your workplace to get the right information,” Dr. Sotto says. “It’s got to be a reliable source, it’s got to be without bias, and I think it needs to be communicated properly.” The takeaway here? Vaccine uptake benefits everyone. According to Dr. Sotto, “you’re not only doing it for yourself to prevent disease—you’re also doing it to protect the people around you.”
Employers have a duty to engage with their staff to take ownership of their own health. Managers can take up the matter during sync sessions. Vaccine clinics and “how to get it” items can be featured in employee e-newsletters. Posters can be placed in high-traffic areas in staff rooms. “The sooner we have the bulk of employees immunized against COVID-19, the sooner we can get back to normal activities without people getting sick,” says Dr. Sotto. In fact, the concept of herd immunity suggests that even a lower percentage of uptake, such as 40 to 50 percent, could go a long way toward minimizing the need for generalized lockdowns and other restrictions.
“The final E is the most important,” says Dr. Alain Sotto. “Organizations should enable employees to get the vaccine without any barriers.” Likely the most important “enabling” mechanism involves providing employees with the freedom to get the vaccine during work hours. Another option involves working with public health to provide vaccine clinics, similar to the flu-shot clinics that happen at many worksites. That may be impractical for the Pfizer vaccine, which requires storage in ultra-cold temperatures. Nevertheless, the point is to be creative in devising ways to enable workforce uptake.
The vaccine’s arrival means that, at the end of the day, there is going to be a post-pandemic world. The challenge now is to be proactive to hasten that world’s arrival.