Sep 20, 2022 - Economy

Employers sit out latest COVID vaccine booster push

Illustration of a bandage falling off a briefcase.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Employers are not-so-mysteriously staying quiet about the latest COVID vaccine rollout.

The big picture: While some companies have already quietly rolled back mandates, the White House earlier this month called on businesses to encourage worker access to the new bivalent COVID booster. So far, the response has been slow — seemingly putting an end to employers' active role in combating the pandemic.

Why it matters: Without a vibrant promotional campaign led by health officials, politicians or employers, fewer people are likely to get inoculated.

  • The latest rollout has been "muted compared with the frenzied urgency of earlier waves of vaccinations," the New York Times reported Sunday, as "some Americans willing to get boosted did not even realize a new shot was available."

The intrigue: President Biden may have given businesses cover not to push the latest booster vaccines when he told "60 Minutes" in an interview aired Sunday that "the pandemic is over."

  • "You heard President Biden say what his advisers did not expect him to say," says Marianne Udow-Phillips, senior adviser at the University of Michigan's Center for Health and Research Transformation. "It is the way people are acting wherever you go."
  • His comments sent vaccine stocks reeling, with Moderna posting the largest drop in the S&P 500 on Monday.

Flashback: The first time around — when COVID vaccines were brand new and the nationwide rollout was picking up steam in early 2021 — countless businesses were vocal advocates for vaccinations.

  • Many employers implemented mandates even after the Biden administration's federal mandate was overturned.
  • Some offered financial incentives to workers to get vaccinated, offered time off for workers to get their shots or set up on-site clinics to encourage immunization.

What they're saying: Employers have grown skittish about the "politically charged" nature of the vaccines, Udow-Phillips says.

  • Plus, she noted that the vaccines no longer do as good of a job preventing transmissibility of the virus since the latest variants are more contagious than the original strain — though they do an excellent job of preventing serious cases.
  • "It's a less compelling case for them to take a strong stand on it," Udow-Phillips tells Axios.

The bottom line: The latest COVID vaccine booster offers "very significant" protection, Udow-Phillips says.

  • But you might not hear that from your employer.
Go deeper