The Implications of COVID-19 Vaccinations for Businesses

An SBF webinar examined the different strategies businesses are adopting in encouraging their employees to get vaccinated.

Businesses across many industries had to adapt and adjust their operations to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the launch of Singapore’s vaccination programme, local enterprises are now focusing on encouraging their employees to take the vaccine when offered in order to position themselves for post-pandemic growth.

To help shed some light on public health scenarios and the implications for businesses, SBF hosted a webinar on 18 March 2021, which was attended by over 800 C-level executives, senior management representatives, and HR directors and managers.

At the webinar, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Chief Health Scientist at the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Executive Director for the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation, and a panel of business leaders discussed Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccination programme. These include how effective and safe are the vaccines, public health goal of vaccination, how businesses would be able to continue to manage and maintain their operations, as well as the implications of vaccination for businesses. The webinar also highlighted the experiences and key takeaways of several organisations that have started on this vaccination journey.

Vaccines shown to be safe and effective

In his keynote address, Professor Tan said that large amounts of data have been collected worldwide, indicating the effectiveness of the various COVID-19 vaccines. For instance, real-world rollouts showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is around 90% effective in preventing hospitalisation and severe COVID-19 infection.

He added that findings from two large clinical trials revealed that local side effects such as pain at the injection site, tightness, and fever were relatively common, but they were generally mild to moderate, and lasted between 1 to 3 days.

“When we looked at serious adverse events like deaths, nerve, or even heart problems, there was no significant difference in these events between the vaccinated people and those on a placebo.”

Pivoting in a crisis

In a panel session that followed, three senior executives from different sectors shared the experiences of their respective organisations in undergoing the vaccination process and how they had to adjust their operations in response to the pandemic. The session was moderated by Dr Juliana Chan, CEO of Wildtype Media Group, a leading STEM-focused media company.

Alex Hungate, President and CEO of SATS Ltd, the chief ground-handling and in-flight catering service provider at Singapore Changi Airport, said that his company had used the downturn as an opportunity to “re-shape” their organisation by leveraging technology to reduce costs.

“When volumes are very high, you do not have the opportunity to re-engineer because you are too busy providing service. However, in this case, with lower volumes, we have been able to implement some big digital platforms which will help us rebound better,” he said.

SATS has also had to accelerate its search for new “non-aviation” streams of revenue, such as providing central kitchen services to chain restaurants. “Overall, around 10,000 of our people took on new roles that are different from what they were doing previously,” said Mr Hungate.

Raffles Medical Group is another company that has tapped on technology to cope with the crisis. Dr Melvyn Wong, Director, Raffles Physicians at Raffles Medical Group, said that the group was fortunate to have developed a digital health platform with telemedicine capabilities since 2018.

This coincided with rising demand for telemedicine and digital health services, especially during the pandemic. “In 2020, we finally crossed the chasm of adoption. We saw a seven-fold increase in telemedicine cases during this period, with approximately 66 percent of them being new patients,” he said.

The group, as a healthcare provider, is also in the thick of the fight against COVID-19 and is working with the government to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

Meanwhile, Kwee Wei-Lin, President of the Singapore Hotel Association, noted that with borders closed, hospitality players have had to pivot towards catering to local staycations. “We have done a lot of staycations and our hotels have had to adapt as well. We need to provide more activities, and the types of guests have varied.”

Vaccination strategies

The panellists further shared the strategies they pursued to encourage more of their employees to get vaccinated. They emphasised the importance of effective communication in achieving a higher response rate.

“People had concerns and questions, but these were not necessarily against taking the vaccine, nor were they highly motivated to speak to a doctor or a professional about their concerns,” explained Mr Hungate.

“As a result, we switched to an opt-out process as opposed to opt-in. The opt-out process involves rostering people to the vaccination centre to facilitate one-on-one discussions with a medical professional, so they could then discuss the individual cases.”

Following the change of approach, the rate of vaccination at SATS has increased significantly to around 90 percent today.

Dr Wong added that communication to employees is key to getting acceptance on taking the vaccine. “You have to communicate in an understandable language that is free of jargon and technical terms. The key things you need to mention would be just on what the vaccine is, who is it for, who it is not for, and any side effects involved.

“We also need to communicate the benefits of getting the vaccines done. You must provide a lot of resources as well. So, after the talk, it would be good to prepare an FAQ in print or digital format, so that employees can read it in various languages. Most importantly, allow them to ask questions,” he said.

Looking towards the future

With vaccinations well under way in Singapore, the panellists touched on plans to finetune their strategies to capitalise on changes in demand and consumer behaviour post-pandemic.

Dr Wong said that businesses should retain some of the fundamental lessons learnt during the crisis. “I hope we can continue with speed of execution, people working very closely together across sectors and disciplines, as well as the ability to adapt quickly to changing situations,” he said. “If we can build on these, we will be very well positioned for the future when the pandemic becomes less acute.”

On her part, Ms Kwee is looking forward to the eventual reopening of borders. “We hope that the vaccinations will not only protect our workforce, but also instill greater confidence for our guests when they stay with us. We also hope to achieve herd immunity for the entire community so that borders can be reopened as soon as possible.”