Differing global vaccine programmes create challenges for employers with overseas staff

Towergate Health & Protection highlights the differing global vaccine programmes, the challenges this creates for employers with overseas staff, and how best to create confidence among employees.

Coronavirus vaccines
The situation across the world is at hugely differing stages with regards to the Covid pandemic. Many employees have been abroad throughout the pandemic and more will now be going overseas as lockdown in the UK eases. Employers need to understand the circumstances in each country in which they have staff and they need to be able to move quickly as situations change.

Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection explains: “Employers with staff already abroad, or those considering their options for returning employees to overseas posts, need to understand the issues surrounding Covid, the vaccination roll out, and how best to support their people in the field.”

Getting a Covid vaccination abroad

When it comes to the Covid vaccination, the UK is ahead of a lot of the rest of the world in ensuring the population is covered. The situation is, however, different in other countries. Some vaccinations may be less effective than the UK versions – while the Pfizer vaccine, approved in 97 countries1 including the UK, Canada, US, and Singapore, is estimated to be 95% effective, Sinovac, for example, approved in China, Mexico, Oman, and 39 other countries, has from 50% to 91% efficacy depending upon the clinical trial2.

The vaccine programme is also less advanced around the world – while in the UAE, 68% of the population is now fully vaccinated, this is 48% in Italy, 16% in Russia, and just 6.8% in India3. Where vaccines are offered at no charge in some countries, in others it is possible to be vaccinated privately. This can prove expensive - in Abu Dhabi, bookings start from 1,300AED, nearly £3004.

With so many permutations surrounding vaccinations abroad, employers may consider bringing employees home to be vaccinated in the UK. This of course brings with it further queries for employers regarding quarantine. Does the employee stay at home for the time during the vaccination process? What happens if they do not have a base in the UK? The costs need to be carefully weighed up and consideration must be given as to who will pick up the tab.

Understanding the protocols of visiting different countries

In the UK we have become used to hearing about countries being on the green, amber or red list. Employers must bear in mind, however, that the rules are different for different countries. Hong Kong, for example, has recently moved the UK up two levels, from high risk, through very high risk, to now being classed as extremely high risk.

Just because the UK will allow people to travel to a country, does not necessarily mean that country will accept visitors. For example, The UK says that Australia is on the green list and that people from the UK are allowed to visit Australia, but in fact entry to Australia is currently closed to most arrivals.

Employers need to be aware of the rules, which are in constant flux. It is important to talk to experts about the key considerations of how to manage overseas staff during this constantly changing time.

Employees stranded overseas

In the case of employees being left stranded abroad because they are on a red list country and not allowed back to the UK, it is up to the employer to continue to fund full pay. This is on the basis that the employee is overseas for work purposes5.

Sarah Dennis comments: “Overseas work is currently a minefield of misinformation and lack of detail. Employers need to be confident that they are keeping employees safe and not putting their own reputation at risk. International experts can give guidance on the key areas they need to consider.”
  1. Vaccines – COVID19 Vaccine Tracker (trackvaccines.org)
  2. UPDATED Comparing COVID-19 Vaccines: Timelines, Types and Prices | BioSpace
  3. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations - Statistics and Research - Our World in Data
  4. Abu Dhabi's Rizek 'first app in the world' to offer at-home vaccine bookings | MobiHealthNews
  5. COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and employment law | Practical Law (thomsonreuters.com)
All figures as at 26 July 2021About Towergate Health & ProtectionTowergate Health & Protection combines a whole of market, independent insurance broking service for businesses and individuals throughout the world with specialist health and wellbeing advice and solutions. The company aims to help clients manage their health risks and improve the wellbeing of themselves, their families and employees, resulting in a healthy, motivated and productive workforce.

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