A Navy hospital worker filled a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year at the Okinawa Naval Hospital. (Matthew Dickinson / US Navy)
The corporate world may want to remove a page from the US Navy handbook when it comes to increasing workforce vaccination rates against COVID-19.
The Navy is the pride of the U.S. Army when it comes to immunization: 76% of active duty members are fully immunized, the highest rate of the four major branches, according to data provided by each. And at a rate of 56%, the American population as a whole has ways to catch up.
The Navy has taken a more stick-than-carrot approach with its members, eschewing the free gift cards or cash bonuses that some private employers offer as incentives and making life more difficult for sailors who haven’t had their chance. He had imposed long quarantines away from family and restricted port calls for unvaccinated sailors even before the Defense Ministry’s inoculation mandate was announced on September 15.
“A lot of Sailors join the Navy because they want to see the world,” said Cmdr. Wade Smith of the USS Sioux City. “I told the crew, if you are 100% vaccinated you will have that option.”
The Navy’s experience could be a useful roadmap for U.S. employers who face a delicate balance as they seek to ensure a safe return to the office without alienating some workers by forcing them to obtain a job. cut. Some employers have recently imposed vaccination mandates as the delta variant spreads, but others like Amazon cannot pass such rules in today’s job market without risking losing employees.
Companies don’t have the same level of control over employees that officers do over a ship’s sailors, but they can create inconveniences for their employees’ daily lives and limit activities – like training and face-to-face meetings. – which could give employees a boost. .
“What can companies get out of this? The incentives work,” said Mark Cancian, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and retired Marine Corps colonel. “Publishing another leaflet explaining how the vaccination is safe and that you should do it won’t help. “
The COVID outbreaks at large companies like Amazon – which saw 20,000 of its U.S. employees contract the virus in six months last year – have proven to be public relations disasters. And the Navy was not spared either. Nearly 1,300 sailors were infected aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in March 2020, forcing the crew to evacuate to Guam and sidelining the ship for more than a month.
Officers have called for the same fate to be avoided since the Defense Ministry began rolling out the vaccine in mid-December. If sailors fall ill at sea, operations could be paralyzed for weeks, a problem particularly costly for the Navy, which is the most expensive branch of the military to operate.
For commanders, “not being effective is not an option,” said Katherine Kuzminski, director of military, veterans and society program at the Center for a New American Security.
In March, Smith’s crew on the USS Sioux City in Mayport, Fla. Became the first in the Navy to achieve 100% vaccination. Ten vessels have rates of 95% or more.
“We tried to talk to them all the time about the mission of the ship,” he said of convincing the crew members to be shot. “‘We are about to deploy, and I only have 70 sailors. I need all of you.'”
Smith said he first called his crew to the flight deck to stress the importance of COVID vaccines, and the ship’s hospital body then set up a table in the mess for 30 minutes each day to answer questions from individual sailors. Captain John Gay, public affairs officer in the Navy’s Office of Medicine and Surgery, said officers across the country have personally urged every sailor to be vaccinated.
“We have a unique environment that other services don’t have, working in these nearby neighborhoods,” he said. “So there was a lot of education, and that one-on-one leadership really helped.”
The newly imposed vaccination mandate requires all military personnel to be vaccinated by mid-September, and those who fail to comply could face penalties as extreme as dismissal from service. But before the shots became mandatory, the removal of restrictions on vaccinated sailors in February convinced many people to get the jab. Meanwhile, unvaccinated servicemen faced restrictions that impacted their personal and professional lives. Even now, those who do not have a shot must be quarantined on the ship for at least two weeks before deployment, meaning they are held in close quarters, away from their families, before that. which will probably be an absence of several months at sea.
When mooring in a foreign port, which can happen multiple times per turn, unvaccinated sailors may also be forced to stay on the ship while their vaccinated counterparts enjoy their free time in a new city.
Individual bases also have the power to impose additional rules. Mark Julian Martinez, a young sailor enlisted on the USS Donald Cook, said unvaccinated sailors at the base in Rota, Spain, were not allowed to leave the base outside of their homes. It was “just another added incentive for people to get vaccinated,” he said.
In the corporate world, some companies have been successful in encouraging vaccines by making life difficult for those who do not have them. Forcing masks and routine testing could be a problem for unvaccinated workers, while not being able to return to the office or attend in-person events could impact the work lives of those employees.
“You can choose not to be vaccinated, but you are also giving up opportunities that would benefit your career,” Kuzminski said. “At some point, it would catch up with you.
Wall Street companies like Morgan Stanley and Citigroup are now requiring their employees to be vaccinated to return to office, circumventing a warrant while creating a strong incentive for vaccination. Other employers like AbbVie require that only their unvaccinated employees mask themselves and undergo weekly tests.
The Navy allowed vaccinated sailors to be unmasked for most of its vaccination campaign, although the requirement was reintroduced at many bases for all sailors in late July in response to the delta variant.
Jaslyn Henyard, a young sailor enlisted on the USS Whidbey Island, said many people on his ship wanted to be vaccinated in order to “get back to normal life.”
“A lot of people have been looking forward to getting out of these restrictions,” she said. “So once the vaccine got to the ship, a lot of people were very excited. They wanted to be done with it.”
Gay, the public affairs officer for the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, said if the rest of the country took Navy notes, the pandemic could soon be behind us.
“We have to stay really disciplined, and the Navy has done a really good job with that by creating bubbles of people without COVID,” he said. “If we can create this in our communities, I think the end would be near.”