Alex Sheppard: Vaccine Success Alone Won’t Give Technology Businesses COVID Immunity

2.62 billion vaccination doses administered and counting.

Vaccinating the world against COVID-19 is one of the most significant undertakings in the history of human civilisation. It is right that we should celebrate this achievement. We are, by every historical comparison, well ahead of schedule. But success and over-achievement can open the door to complacency, and, from a business perspective, this is the worst possible moment to be complacent.

In the past 12 months, world markets have been rocked, economies damaged and 100,000s of organisations put out of business. While our collective vaccination efforts are finally creating the conditions for societal reopening, at the same time, they are leading some companies to question the need for enhanced workplace safety measures, particularly the need for mass COVID testing.

So it’s time to have an honest conversation about what our impressive vaccination progress really means for individual technology businesses in the months ahead.

And what the discussion boils down to is a question of success criteria. The vaccines don’t stop people from catching COVID-19, but they do prevent hospitalisations and reduce community transmission, and a low COVID rate is tolerable without any danger of overwhelming the health infrastructure.

The same is true at a macro-economic level. A low COVID rate means a low chance of national lockdowns or entire industries being asked to close. But if we apply the above criteria to an individual business, things start to look very different. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, they still have to self-isolate. Depending on the country, self-isolation may remain mandatory for anyone who comes into close contact with an infected person.

In a workplace context, this means multiple employees taken out of action at a moment’s notice, or potentially even an entire office closed until everyone can demonstrate that they’re COVID negative. An outbreak won’t just cause disruption and lost profits – it could lead to reputational damage and pushback from employees who are no longer comfortable returning to the physical workplace. The possibility of Government fines for businesses that are lax on COVID safety also seems well within the realms of possibility. The only way for businesses to proceed without fear of interruption is to keep COVID transmission at zero by ensuring that infected employees don’t set foot in the workplace.

This is the key reason why employee testing is so important right now. The technology has advanced rapidly since the early days of the pandemic. Today, simple, saliva-based lateral flow tests can be easily administered by employees from home, typically at the cost of under £5 per test – a small price to pay compared to the horror show scenarios outlined above.

It’s the safest, most reassuring way of keeping COVID-19 out of the workplace, especially when considering that other protective measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing will probably fall by the wayside in favour of employee comfort and workplace productivity.

The post-COVID world, for the foreseeable future, involves living with the virus and managing it effectively. For individual businesses, testing their employees to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is not just a valuable contribution to the cause – in reality, it may be a commercial necessity.
Written by Alex Sheppard, co-founder of Vatic, the creators of the KnowNow saliva-only Covid rapid antigen test