Bumps in the road?

Bumps in the road

It has been suspected for some months that the two vaccines most widely used in the UK to combat COVID-19 may perhaps deliver more benefits than was originally intended or expected. 

The original aim of the vaccination programme was, of course, to prevent people becoming ill with the virus, and by extension reduce the mortality rate associated with such an infection too.  Yet reports this week suggest that both the Pfizer and Astra Zeneca vaccines are also delivering the additional benefit of reduced transmission too.  This is excellent news, and reinforces the growing national belief that the Prime Minister’s “roadmap” of easing restrictions can continue to be followed, with the aim of a full return to some form of business and personal normality in less than two months’ time.

Bumps in the road?

Yet employers and their HR professionals may still need to act with more than a degree of caution. 

It has always been expected that there would be at least some potholes and bumps in the road to normality which might throw the nation off course.  And that possibility remains entirely valid, particularly with the surge in COVID-19 cases in other areas of the world increasing the risks of importing further variants of the virus in the months ahead.

And it is also the case that the vaccination programme in isolation might not be sufficient to curb a return of the virus.  For whilst the vaccines roll-out has been a singular national success – and the threat of COVID-19 significantly reduced as a result – it is as yet unclear how much of this success is directly down to the vaccines, and how much is a result of the lengthy lockdowns and restrictions that all parts of the UK have experienced since the start of 2021. 

What’s happening overseas?

For a reality check it is certainly worth looking beyond these shores, and at one of the very few nations of significant population size that has surpassed the vaccination numbers of the UK. 

The South American nation of Chile has vaccination numbers recorded at 73.9 doses per 100 people, which is more than either the United Kingdom (69.2) or the USA (68.4) at the time of writing.*  Yet Chile is now experiencing another major surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, and new lockdowns and restrictions as a result. 

So why is this, and is there anything that the UK, its employers, and HR professionals can learn from this resurgence to help mitigate their own local risks accordingly, and avoid a repeat of the last 14 months of on-off restrictions in this country?

So what’s gone wrong in Chile?

Of course it’s difficult to be entirely clear on the problems in Chile. 

As well as the usual variance in population demographics and geographical differences, there is also the fact that the Chilean vaccination programme is centred on a vaccine developed in Beijing, which might be less effective than those used in the UK and USA.  Or it may be that Chile has just been more exposed to new variants that are more resilient to the vaccine on offer.

Yet there is a growing school of thought that the issue might be too heavy a reliance on Chile’s national vaccination programme to resolve the COVID-19 threat in isolation. 

Human nature being what it is, it seems likely that once vaccinated the Chilean population perhaps became less fearful of the virus and less cautious as a result.  So established measures to combat the virus spread (such as face covering and social distancing) were forgotten by some, which in turn has led to more transmission risks and a surge in cases as a result.

Let’s be careful out there…

The reality is that the vaccines are a potent weapon in the fight against COVID-19, but are not necessarily an entire solution to the problem.  Until the virus is supressed worldwide there will remain a major risk of resurgence, so it’s vital that employers and their employees don’t lower their guard as the restrictions are removed in the months and possibly years ahead.

So we would once again encourage employers to develop and maintain a strong policy to protect employees and contain the virus in the short-term, and to provide a rapid response to any new resurgence of COVID-19 and/or other new infectious disease risks in the future also.  An outline of how Employee Benefit provision can support such a policy is included in this recent article.

The UK’s 2021 roadmap to normality has been running pretty well since February, and it is in all our interests to ensure that no employer or sector takes the wrong route now.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.

*BBC news website 27/04/21

(Published 30/04/21)

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

Steve Herbert

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