Sundar Pichai, Google and Alphabet CEO, has had enough. Yesterday, he told his workforce and the world that “anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated.” Period.
Sure, most Google employees are bright enough to have already gotten a COVID-19 shot. Google doesn’t hire dummies. As Pichai wrote: “It’s encouraging to see very high vaccination rates for our Google community in areas where vaccines are widely available. This is a big reason why we felt comfortable opening some of our offices to employees who wanted to return early. And, I have to say, it’s been great to see Googlers brainstorming around whiteboards and enjoying meals in cafes again in the many offices that have already re-opened globally.”
But “very high” isn’t everyone. And, in case you haven’t noticed, efforts to get most people in the US vaccinated have fallen short; the CDC is even recommending that we start masking again when indoors in areas with large outbreaks.
So, it’s back to masks, eh? Thanks a lot to everyone who could have gotten a shot but didn’t. I don’t want to take even a remote chance of getting a mild case of COVID-19 or, far more worrying, giving it to someone else who’s not as healthy as I am.
The sudden rise in cases — largely prompted by the highly infectious Delta variant — has begun to upend planning for a “return” to normal business this year. And it’s forcing enterprises to grapple with sticky issues around public vs. private health concerns.
Though many people won’t get vaccinated, many others actually can’t. They have genuine health issues, or they’re too young, for example. That’s what makes it imperative for companies to get these decisions right — and it’s one reason those in the “no-vaccine-for-me” camp are so infuriating.
The thing about public health is that, well, it’s about public health, as in the people we all work with. In a pandemic, individual decisions have larger consequences. If you don’t want to wear a safety belt when you’re driving drunk, it’s not just you that’s in danger — it’s everyone else on the highway. The vaccine works exactly the same way, except instead of the roads it’s our offices where danger could lurk around the hallway corner.
Think about it. When was the last time you knew someone who came down with smallpox or polio? Chances are you’ve never met anyone. Because vaccines eliminated smallpox around the world in 1980 and polio hasn’t been seen in the US since 1993.
Vaccines work. And businesses aren’t going to let you ignore that simple fact anymore. Google is just one of the biggest tech names to move quickly.
Pichai again: “We’re rolling this policy out in the U.S. in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months. The implementation will vary according to local conditions and regulations, and will not apply until vaccines are widely available in your area. You’ll get guidance from your local leads about how this will affect you, and we’ll also share more details on an exceptions process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other protected reasons.”
Read that language carefully. You’re going to be seeing more of it in the future. Google is the biggest name (so far) to insist on vaccines, but it won’t be the last. I expect by September the US government will follow suit. By year’s end, only the most foolish of businesses won’t have made this a hard policy.
Oh, and as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, many people won’t be coming back to the office anyway. This pandemic has underlined that numerous workers don’t need to be in their cubicles to do productive work. Pichai knows that ,too. He also announced that Google will extend its global voluntary work-from-home policy through Oct 18. For many people, working-from-home is going to last for the rest of their careers.
In the meantime, it might also save their lives until enough people, and enough companies, come around on vaccinations.