February 23, 2024

Vaccination Requirements are Working

Stephen Massey
Managing Director, Health Action Alliance

Figures from a wide range of private and public employers paint a clear picture: COVID-19 vaccine requirements are working. Many employers are reporting vaccination rates over 90% and significant leaps after requirements were put in place. 

  • Tyson Foods’ employee vaccination rate jumped from 45% to 91% after it announced its requirement.
  • United Airlines’ jumped from 59% to 99%.
  • Kaiser Permanente’s jumped from 78% to 97%.

Separation rates near zero

Polling had suggested anywhere from one-quarter to half of all unvaccinated workers would consider leaving their jobs rather than get vaccinated, but the numbers shared by companies should give confidence to other employers that they will not see separations anywhere near that high. Houston Methodist hospital system lost 153 workers, representing 0.6% of its workforce. Similarly, United Airlines separated from fewer than 1% of its employees. 

At UNC Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 0.2% resigned over the vaccination requirement. And in Morehead, Kentucky, St. Claire Regional Medical Center terminated 24 of its 1,200 employees (2%). Kaiser Permanente in California put 2,200 employees on unpaid leave, giving them an extra two months to get vaccinated, and even that significant number represents only 1% of its workforce. 

For smaller businesses, losing even just one employee can make a real impact, so all employers are encouraged to plan ahead and prepare for some attrition as a result of a vaccine requirement policy. 

Effective even in low-wage positions

In New York, representatives from the home health aide industry—whose workers typically make just over minimum wage—expected no more than 70% of their workers to get vaccinated. That 86% have met the vaccination deadline is being interpreted as a sign of the requirement’s effectiveness.

What about religious and medical exemptions?

Workers who have received medical and religious exemptions from an employer’s vaccination requirement are counted as complying with their companies’ policies—however, these figures are low, ranging from 1% at Houston Methodist to 3% at United Airlines. Elsewhere, by comparison, San Diego’s three largest healthcare providers also report exemption request rates at 3%. The Conway Regional Medical System in Arkansas, which generated headlines for its pushback on religious exemption requests, received requests from only 5% of its workers. And just 6% of state employees in Washington have requested religious exemptions.

COVID-19 vaccine requirements are becoming more common.

According to a new White House report, more than 3,500 organizations already require COVID-19 vaccination, including 25% of businesses. We have catalogued hundreds of employers that have already instituted some form of a vaccine requirement. The number of companies with strengthened vaccination policies will only grow with the arrival of the federal requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for companies of 100 workers or more.

Various polls between January and May 2021 showed that just 8-10% of employers were considering vaccination requirements. According to a September survey of HR executives by Gartner, 46% of companies now anticipate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations; 36% were unsure, and only 17% said they would not take action.

Employers should continue to build trust and communicate.

Of course, success does not begin and end with a vaccination requirement. Company leaders have said that high compliance came after careful and continuous communication with workers—including listening to their interests and concerns—education about the vaccine, trust-building, and contingency planning. For more information on planning and communicating your company’s vaccination requirement, see our Communications Guide for Businesses.