As lawmakers debate various policies and relief measures, a different type of stimulus package will soon be available to the business community: COVID-19 vaccines.
The arrival of vaccines is a big deal for businesses, which have been battered by the pandemic.
Survey data published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that early in the outbreak, more than 40% of the 5,800 businesses surveyed temporarily closed. Nearly all of these closures were because of COVID-19.
What's more, in the first 10 months of 2020, according to a report from the Brookings Institution, small business revenue dropped by 20%. That's in part because people changed their behaviors to slow the spread of a deadly virus.
With the arrival of highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, there's hope for an improved economic outlook.
Consider a readout from the most recent Federal Reserve meeting: "They saw progress on vaccinations as essential for supporting further gains in aggregate consumer spending and for the economic recovery more generally."
This upside to vaccines should have business leaders laser-focused on achieving high rates of workforce vaccination.
Right now, there are several things business leaders should do to prime their colleagues for the day when vaccines become more widely available:
• Regularly share vaccine data and experiences with employees to address concerns. Early in the pandemic, data suggested that people were hesitant to get the forthcoming vaccines. But after hearing months of encouraging news on the vaccine front, more than 70% of people would now get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to new Gallup data. Sharing information like this can help build trust with employees and support positive dialogue. In addition, seeking direct feedback from employees can help identify their concerns and what information they need. Your health plan can also be a good resource for vaccine-related data, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a comprehensive tool kit for businesses and workplaces.
• Closely follow vaccine rollout guidelines in the states in which you do business. Vaccine distribution varies by state. Typically vaccine distribution is based on age, job type and/or health risk factors. Knowing the vaccine distribution guidelines in the states where you do business will allow you to provide the most relevant information to your workforce, including where to go when vaccines become available.
• Talk to legal and human resources. From time-off policies for vaccination to vaccine incentives, there are many topics to cover with legal and human resources departments. By having these discussions earlier, you can provide your teams with all the necessary information before vaccines become widely available.
While the toll of this pandemic has had a profound impact on balance sheets for many businesses, it's reminded us that lives and livelihoods are inseparably linked — and businesses play a critical role in both.
A healthy economy is a healthy economy and the vaccines are our lifeline.
Dr. Kevin Ronneberg is vice president and associate medical director at Bloomington-based HealthPartners.