By Andrew Keshner
Signs are emerging that a new means of nudging unvaccinated workers toward COVID-19 shots may be working.
It’s been two weeks since Delta Air Lines /zigman2/quotes/200327741/composite DAL -0.37% said it would start assessing against unvaccinated workers a $200 monthly health-insurance surcharge, and the airline is already seeing the announcement move the needle on its internal vaccination rate, according to its top medical official.
In that brief span of time, the company’s vaccination rate climbed to 78% from 74%, Dr. Henry Ting, senior vice president and chief health officer at Delta, said Thursday.
Nearly 20% of the remaining 20,000 workers without shots have now started the vaccination process, “which I think is a huge number in terms of shifting that group that’s most reluctant,” Ting said.
Furthermore, he added, the company, with 80,000 employees, hasn’t seen any worker turnover as a result.
At this point, a four-percentage-point climb is no small feat because the people who remain unvaccinated also tend to be the most hesitant, compared with the vast group who initially rushed to get shots at the earliest availability, Ting noted.
Delta has set up on-site vaccination clinics, held a lottery in its outreach promoting vaccination, and Ting is also personally talking to workers.
Delta’s surcharge policy starts in November, and, starting Sunday, unvaccinated workers will have to undergo weekly testing. Unvaccinated workers’ COVID-related hospitalizations have cost Delta some $50,000, on average, CEO Ed Bastian said in the late August announcement of the surcharges.
Ting spoke Thursday morning at an Infectious Diseases Society of America press briefing about the future of the workplace amid the continuing pandemic.
As of Wednesday, 75.2% of America’s adult population had received at least one shot, and 64.4% were fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Delta Air Line shares are up 2.2% from the start of the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +0.43% is up almost 14%, and the S&P 500 is up 19.6% in the same period.
Joe Biden expected to announce stricter vaccine rules
On Thursday, President Joe Biden discussed a rule being developed by the Department of Labor that will require businesses with 100 or more workers to ensure their employees are vaccinated or show a negative test result weekly, at minimum
The rule will cover more than 80 million private-sector workers, according to the White House.
Surcharges and vaccine requirements might be part of the future of many COVID-19 workplace policies as the delta variant of the coronavirus causing the disease fuels cases.
In a recent survey of more than 950 companies employing a combined 9.7 million people, 17% said they were considering making unvaccinated staff shoulder extra healthcare costs.
Meanwhile, 12% were mulling a discount for vaccinated workers, the Wills Towers Watson /zigman2/quotes/202694274/composite WLTW -1.60% survey revealed. The same survey showed 21% of employers with some type of workplace vaccination requirement in place this summer, up from 9% in the spring.
Ting noted that the airline is making full vaccination a requirement for the approximately 10,000 new hires as the travel business rebounds. Already halfway through the hiring process, Ting said the company has seen “no drop-off in the number of people who are willing to join Delta Air Line as a new employee.”
Cities including New York and San Francisco now require proof of vaccination for access to indoor dining and drinking establishments and other venues.
Howard Stern, the popular shock jock on SiriusXM, ripped into people who still haven’t received their COVID-19 shots. “F— their freedom. I want my freedom to live,” he said during his show on Tuesday.