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Businesses must join the fight against the anti-vaxxers 

A Covid vaccine bonus would cost companies much less than another lockdown - and they could sack staff who refuse to be inoculated

The tests are close to completion. The trial data is almost ready. And the paperwork will be filed with the regulators soon. We may be just a few weeks away from the approval of the first vaccine for Covid-19.

A couple of shots to the arm, and we will be out of this crisis. Shops, restaurants and gyms can reopen, and we can all put this whole nightmare behind us.

But hold on.

There is just one flaw in that rosiest of all possible scenarios: a lot of people don’t want to take the vaccine. And if not enough people take it, then we can’t reach herd immunity and the virus will remain a constant threat.

Government has a big role to play in persuading us all to sign up to a shot. So do scientists, celebrities and anyone with a public voice. Most of all, however, businesses need to take on the anti-vaxxers.

Like how? Offer time off, and workplace vaccination centres; offer a bonus for getting injected; fire anyone who refuses, and who can’t come back to work; and refuse to serve the unvaccinated.

Sure, some of that will be controversial – to put it mildly – and most companies are understandably reluctant to take sides on ethical or moral issues. But no one has more at stake in defeating this virus than business – and as the old saying has it, if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.

It remains to be seen just how soon we have an effective vaccine against Covid-19. After last week’s results from Pfizer, and Monday’s data from Moderna, and with upcoming news from AstraZeneca on the Oxford vaccine, plus all the other trials around the world, it looks certain to be soon.

By January we may have two or three acceptable vaccines (although, heck, one would be great). The cycle of lockdowns will be close to an end. We can start getting back to normal life, and figuring out how to repair the damage done to the economy and society over the last gruelling 10 months.

There are formidable logistical issues to a mass vaccination programme. Businesses can help with those; after all, no one knows more about transporting delicate materials around the world than the big airlines; or more about rapid distribution than the main supermarkets; or more about persuasion than the big ad agencies.

A lot of different skills will have to be mobilised, and many of those are to be found within our giant corporations. And yet the biggest challenge will not be logistical. Those problems can always be fixed with money and hard work. They will be ethical.

Surveys suggest 30pc to 40pc of people don’t want to take a shot. Anti-vaxxer propaganda is spreading all the time, creating fear and nervousness. But unless a critical number of people take it, the vaccine won’t solve the crisis.

Arguably, business has a civic duty to help fight that. But, even leaving that aside, it is surely a commercial necessity as well – the sooner we defeat the virus the better for every company. So what can they do to help ensure the maximum take-up? Here are four steps every company should be preparing for.

First, make it easy. As an employer, offer time off to get a vaccination. It doesn’t take long, but some people might need to take a couple of days off to get over any mild side effects. If so, tell HR not to hassle them for sick notes.

If you employ lots of people, set up a mobile vaccination centre for everyone to get a shot (in much the same way blood donation works). And it would help if the chief executive was the first person to roll up their sleeves for a shot. Peer pressure is going to be crucial in persuading people to take the vaccine and leading by example is always the best place to start.

Next, how about a bonus for staff who take a shot? Companies routinely give their staff a Christmas bonus, and some form of profit-sharing as well. It wouldn’t be hard to offer a cash payment or a gift voucher as a reward for anyone who is vaccinated.

If the Chancellor wanted an eye-catching initiative (and, come to think of it, he finds them hard to resist) he could make the Covid bonus tax-free. Sure, it will cost the company a bit of money – but not nearly as much as another lockdown.

Thirdly, and this is where it starts to get more controversial, employment.

If you don’t want to go to the factory, warehouse, building site, shop or office because of the risk of catching the virus, and you won’t take a vaccine, then the company should be allowed to fire you, and there should be no appeal to a tribunal.

If that needs a tweak to the law, then Parliament can pass that overnight. If people have ethical objections to taking a vaccine that has passed its clinical trials, then that is up to them. But they shouldn’t expect their employer to subsidise their beliefs.

Finally, companies should discriminate against anti-vaxxers as customers as well.

It should be a rule, with a tweak to the law if necessary, that you can’t get on a plane, or stay at a hotel, or go to a theatre or nightclub without a vaccination. It isn’t much different than enforcing a ban on under-age drinking, and we can all carry a vaccination certificate on our phones.

We all have a stake in defeating this virus. In truth, however, no one has more of a stake than business. It has already cost untold billions in lost sales. Once we have a vaccine, companies need to throw their weight behind making sure everyone takes it. And with that moment possibly just weeks away, they need to start preparing for that now.