Tom Sullivan | August 5, 2021
Disclosure: Health Evolution Executive Chairman David Brailer, MD, is a signatory of the letter referenced in this article.
More than two dozen public health experts wrote an open letter to America’s private sector leaders encouraging the business executives to join forces in the fight against COVID-19 as the Delta variant is ushering in a new wave of infections and the U.S. continues struggling with low vaccination rates.
“The Delta variant represents a more dangerous threat to your workplace health and safety, business continuity, and ability to serve your clients and customers,” the letter’s signatories explained. “Increasing vaccination rates is the country’s most immediate and best hope of reaching population immunity, beating the pandemic, and restoring our national vitality and way of life.”
The letter states that with only 58 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated to date, Delta is also more of a risk than past variants for private sector workers with cancer, HIV, organ transplant recipients and others with compromised immune systems. Others at heightened risk include children under 12, some elderly people and, of course, the unvaccinated.
“It’s a particularly critical time for the private sector, which employs 124 million and is the engine of American productivity and economic growth. Vaccinated people, while generally protected against the delta variant, especially from severe disease, can become infected and spread the virus to co-workers, families and communities,” wrote three of the letter’s signatories, Mark McClellan, MD, Director, Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, and a former FDA Commissioner, and former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; Andy Slavitt, former Senior Adviser to COVID-19 Response Coordinator and former Acting Administrator, CMS; and John Bridgeland, Co-Founder & CEO, COVID Collaborative, and former Director, White House Domestic Policy Council , in a USAToday opinion piece.
In pandemic response and “as a compliment to actions by federal, state and local governments,” the letter calls on private sector leaders to establish #COVIDSafeZones and points out that requiring vaccines is the most effective manner to achieve that. For organizations that do not establish vaccine requirements, the signatories recommended four temporary measures any enterprise in the private sector can leverage:
Infection screening protocol. The public health experts recommend that business leaders institute twice-weekly rapid testing for all employees and regular visitors, though they made a note that this need not apply to retail customers.
Proof of vaccination. Employees should be required to show some form of proof that they have been vaccinated and the appropriate waiting time after the final shot should be accounted for. People who have demonstrated that they are fully vaccinated are exempt from the infection screening protocol.
Incentives for vaccination. This temporary measure involves two steps. The first is to incent employees to receive the vaccine, whether with money, paid time off or other means. A second critical aspect is to make it as easy as possible for people to access the vaccine.
Mask use. Follow up-to-date guidance from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, which at the time the letter was written recommend that N95 or equivalent masks be worn by vaccinated and unvaccinated individual when in public indoor areas, with people of unknown vaccination status, and in substantial or high prevalence zones.
“The #COVIDSafeZones recommendations are not a broad vaccination mandate. We believe they are consistent with established precedent and any state laws that prohibit broad vaccination requirements in places of business. These recommendations are temporary measures until we are reliably back to low COVID rates and the public health threat is behind us,” the letter explains. “With your leadership, we will beat this pandemic. But this cannot be done with actions from the federal government alone. Private sector leaders have a critical role to play. We believe these recommendations balance respect for public safety and individual liberty, and we hope you will adopt them to move our country forward together.”
The letter’s signatories:
Jerome M. Adams, 20th Surgeon General of the United States
Barbara D. Alexander, President, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Professor of Medicine and Pathology, Duke University
Melody Barnes, Former Director, White House Domestic Policy Council
Georges C. Benjamin, Executive Director, American Public Health Association
David Brailer, Former National Coordinator for Health Information Technology
John Bridgeland, Co-Founder & CEO, COVID Collaborative, Former Director, White House Domestic Policy Council
Robert M. Califf, Prof. of Cardiology, Duke School of Medicine, Former FDA Commissioner
Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the United States, Distinguished Professor, University of Arizona
Raymond G. Chambers Co-Founder, COVID Collaborative WHO Ambassador for Global Strategy
Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University
Tom Daschle, Former U.S. Senator (D-SD), Former Senate Majority Leader
Carlos del Rio, Professor, Emory University School of Medicine , International Secretary, National Academy of Medicine
Mark Dybul, Co-Director, Georgetown Center for Global Health & Impact Former Executive Director, Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria, TB, Former U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator
Gary Edson, President, COVID Collaborative, Former Deputy National Security Adviser
Julio Frenk, President, University of Miami, Former Minister of Health, Mexico
Tom Frieden, President & CEO, Resolve to Save Lives, Former Director, CDC
William H. Frist, Former U.S. Senator (R-TN) Former Senate Majority Leader
Scott Gottlieb, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute, Former FDA Commissioner
Margaret (Peggy) Hamburg, Former FDA Commissioner, Former Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Medicine
Mike Leavitt, Former U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services, Former Governor & U.S. Senator (R-UT)
Stephen Massey, Managing Director, Health Action Alliance
Mark McClellan, Director, Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, Former FDA Commissioner, Former Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Lauren Ancel Meyers, Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Deval Patrick, Former Governor (D-MA)
Caitlin Rivers, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security
Kathleen Sebelius, Former U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services, Former Governor (D-KS)
Andy Slavitt, Former Senior Adviser to COVID-19 Response Coordinator, Former Acting Administrator, Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Robert M. Wachter, Chairman, Department of Medicine, UCSF
Michelle Williams, Co-Founder, COVID Collaborative, Dean, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health