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How Manufacturers Are Dealing with Delta

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As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps changing, plenty of manufacturers are looking for answers on how to protect their employees. To help clarify where we stand and what comes next, the NAM hosted a town hall on the strategies manufacturers are deploying to keep workplaces safe as well the vaccine policies some companies are implementing in response to the delta variant.

Who participated: Moderated by NAM Vice President of Infrastructure, Innovation and Human Resources Policy Robyn Boerstling, the webinar featured Dr. Michael Ybarra of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Association (PhRMA); NAM Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary Linda Kelly; Senior Director of Global Compensation & Mobility R.J. Corning of Whirlpool Corporation; and Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Shannon Lapierre of Stanley Black & Decker.

The vaccination deal: Dr. Ybarra gave a rundown of the current state-of-play in the pandemic, detailing the various kinds of vaccines—protein-based, viral vector, and mRNA—and laying out which vaccines have been approved for use in the U.S. (Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna). He explained the reasons why variants are occurring, and the possible need for booster shots as the effectiveness of vaccines wanes and variants create further challenges.

  • Who’s at risk: “It’s still the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Ybarra. “It’s people who are young and think they’re invincible and don’t need the vaccine, and people who maybe just got one dose of the vaccine and didn’t complete their series. That’s the super high risk.”
  • Masks on: “Even if you’re vaccinated, you should wear a mask indoors,” said Dr. Ybarra. “You don’t want to stress test the vaccine.”
  • An important reminder: Ybarra noted a “humbling reality”: that almost all of the current COVID-19 deaths are among unvaccinated people.

“The best thing you can do right now is get the vaccine if you’re not vaccinated,” said Dr. Ybarra. “It’ll provide protection against the worst impacts of COVID-19. And if you’re in that high stress environment of being indoors with people whom you don’t know are vaccinated, it’s important to wear a mask because it will provide that extra layer of protection.”

An NAM policy rundown: Kelly provided an overview of the NAM’s policies and explained its phased approach to a vaccine mandate for all employees.

  • A vaccine mandate: In July, the NAM made a decision to require all NAM employees to be vaccinated or to seek accommodations for medical or religious reasons by September 20.
  • A NAM, a plan: “This decision was not taken lightly,” said Kelly. “We talked about it for a long time, we worked through a lot of issues, we sought outside legal advice on it. But we saw it as the next evolution on our ongoing workplace safety posture during the pandemic.”
  • Good feedback: “As we have been rolling this out…we’ve actually heard from a number of employees who have thanked us, because the policy has made them feel safer about being in the office,” said Kelly.
  • Useful advice: “No matter what you’re doing on your vaccine policies, you need to have your HR, your legal team, and your communications team working very closely together,” she added.

Cases in point: Corning and Lapierre discussed the actions they have taken at Whirlpool and Stanley Black & Decker to prioritize employee health and safety.

  • Masking up: Both Whirlpool and Stanley Black & Decker have responded to the increase in cases by re-imposing mask mandates.
  • Incentivizing vaccines: While vaccines are not yet mandatory for employees, Whirlpool is focused on making it easy for people to be vaccinated—in particular by holding large onsite vaccination clinics where possible. It is also providing $250 to people who get vaccinated. Stanley Black & Decker has sent its chief medical officer and local doctors to facilities where vaccine uptake is low to answer questions and provide encouragement. The company has also set up on-site vaccine clinics where possible.
  • Collecting data: Whirlpool is working to collect data from its employees to better understand who is getting vaccinated, and to gather information on any breakthrough infections. Stanley Black & Decker, meanwhile, surveyed its employees early on in order to gauge interest in vaccinations so it could target its efforts appropriately. Both are taking care to protect their workers’ confidentiality.

The last word: “We’re not going to have all the answers, but we can help guide people in the right direction and help them make the best choices for their circumstances,” said Boerstling.

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