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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Fortune: It’s Time for CEOs to Mandate COVID Vaccinations for All Employees

What is more important for your business than the health and safety of your employees and your customers?

America is seeing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, due to the Delta variant impacting the unvaccinated. The 7-day average for COVID cases is currently over 100,000, with an average of 472 deaths per day. Over 97% of hospitalizations and 99% of deaths are occurring among the unvaccinated.

Each day more and more companies are mandating vaccines for their employees. DisneyTyson FoodsUnited AirlinesMicrosoft, Mayo Clinic, GoogleSalesforce and Facebook require vaccines for all employees coming to their offices. Now nursing homes, where the largest COVID outbreaks occurred in 2020, are following suit. Genesis Healthcare, the largest nursing home company, announced this week that it is adopting a universal vaccine requirement for its employees, as did Brookdale Senior Living.

On March 31, Marc Boom, the CEO of Houston Methodist Hospital, took the lead by mandating vaccinations for all employees unless they had a valid medical excuse. As a result, Houston Methodist terminated 178 employees who refused to be vaccinated. In turn, they sued the hospital for “unfair discrimination.” On June 12th U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes ruled that the health system’s requirement did not violate state or federal law or public policy. “This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus,” Hughes wrote in his ruling. “It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”

In the near term, getting everyone vaccinated is the only way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its Delta variant to less than one person infected by each person with the virus, the rate at which total infections will begin to decline. If a large part of the U.S. population resists getting vaccinated, COVID and its variants will continue to be with us for several years. Many companies missed the window to require vaccines several months ago while they waited for voluntary vaccinations to take hold. As a result, we failed to kill off COVID before the Delta variant began to spread rapidly among the unvaccinated.

If you believe that protecting the health and safety of their employees should rank among the top priorities for CEOs, then mandating vaccines is a natural choice that flows from your company’s values. CEOs can allow people with a valid medical reason an exemption, as long as it’s confirmed by their personal physician. The purpose of the mandate is not only to keep employees safe and healthy, but to ensure they are not infecting either their colleagues or customers with COVID.

Vaccine resisters offer many rationales for why they do not have to be vaccinated: “Don’t take away my freedom,” “Vaccines are only under an emergency authorization,” or “You can get COVID even if you are vaccinated.” None of these excuses holds water against the risks of having COVID and transmitting it to other people. Simply put, those who choose not to get vaccinated are putting the lives at risk of those around them. With such employees, employers should follow Marc Boom’s lead and ask them to resign or be terminated.

Within thirty days, it is anticipated the Food and Drug Administration will have given final approval to the Pfizer vaccine, with Moderna (uses the same mRNA technology) close behind. The mRNA technology has shown itself to be quite robust in combatting new variants like Delta. The excuses are going away. Yet the death rate continues to climb.

A policy of voluntary vaccinations has not tamed this virus. At the current infection and death rate, thousands more will die if vaccination rates don’t move higher. Increasing vaccination rates is sound health policy that will save lives. Why would leading companies not require vaccinations to protect their employees from this virus?

With the U.S. economy surging with 943,000 jobs added in July—the third consecutive month of strong gains—and unemployment falling to 5.4%, getting all employees vaccinated holds the key to sustained economic growth. With trust in government near all-time lows, corporate leadership is necessary for the country to move forward on this issue.

By mandating vaccinations, employers can have a very positive impact in reaching this goal while ensuring all their employees can stay healthy.

Bill George is the author of Discover Your True North, a Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, and the former chair and CEO of Medtronic. He holds a small amount of Microsoft stock but has no financial interest in any of the other companies mentioned in this article.

This content was originally published on 8/10/21 on Fortune.com.