When I am asked whether I plan to get the Covid-19 vaccine, I simply pull out my U.S. Army shot record, which I now carry in my back-left pants pocket. As President and Co-Founder of a leader development company, the question has been asked to me so often I decided to start carrying it with me. Most civilians are shocked to see the list of 16 vaccine shots that I received during my military service between 1984-2006. Polio, Smallpox, Typhoid, Anthrax, Flu, Hepatitis A &B, and more.
In the Army, we did not fret over whether we had to get any vaccine – it was mandatory. It was part of the job and required by law to follow the orders to get vaccinated, usually on the first day of basic training and later for deployments. It was our duty to do so. An army cannot risk having an outbreak of any of the above contagious diseases. An outbreak could render the affected unit potentially combat ineffective and incapable of accomplishing the Army’s mission of defending the nation.
Our nation’s Founding Father, General George Washington, faced a dilemma during the American Revolution as a Smallpox pandemic ravaged the nation. Most British soldiers had already had the disease in England in a prior pandemic and were immune. Most American soldiers were not. General Washington took the brave step of a mass military vaccination, which had a fatality rate of 5-10% but inoculated the entire Army, thereby helping win the war. This was a bad vs bad decision. Inoculating the Army would cause deaths and not inoculating the Army would cause deaths through natural contagion. Washington chose the difficult task of vaccinating the Army. This Covid-19 vaccine is far safer and much more advanced than the crude and often lethal smallpox vaccine of the 1770s. Yet, it is equally important in saving our nation by helping to reopen the economy.
For one of first times in history, corporate leaders have an opportunity to show this type of leadership through personal courage and effective communication within their organization. Our nation is essentially stuck in quarantine, or lockdown. We cannot move forward until we defeat this virus. Every corporate leader, and every chief learning officer, in my opinion, should be educating their organization on the virus, the vaccine, the distribution plan and the path forward to defeat Covid-19. Most have been doing so all along. Proper safety, PPE and social distancing are all part of the internal and external communications for most companies. Now, we should be moving into the phase of educating our employees on the progress, availability and information related to the vaccine.
Sadly, many Americans say they do not plan to get the Covid-19 vaccine at their first opportunity. Gallup polls have found between 42%-50% are not willing to be vaccinated. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we as a nation need to vaccinate approximately 70% of the population before we reach “herd immunity.” This essentially means the virus will have fewer targets, or potential patients, and it dies off. In order to reach the 70% threshold, American population needs to be confident that they should get the vaccine.
Some Americans cannot get the vaccine due to health, religious or other reasons. This makes it even more crucial for the remainder, who can get it, to step up as soon as possible. Corporate leaders, and all public figures, have a vested interest from both a business and a moral perspective, to show leadership by getting vaccinated. The longer we delay the nation getting to the 70% national threshold, the more Americans die from the virus. Because all of society requires us to get to around 70% vaccinated/immune, it is now our duty to the rest of our citizens to get the vaccine for those who can get it.
Getting the vaccine is currently voluntary and every American should exercise their right to choose. I am not advocating for a mandatory vaccination policy. I am advocating that leaders have both a self-interest and a moral responsibility to educate themselves and their organizations on every aspect of the vaccine. Let everyone in your organization know that you plan to get the vaccine as soon as possible. That’s positive leadership. What is the alternative? Sit back and let millions of our fellow Americans get the vaccine and see how it goes? That’s not leadership. That’s the opposite of leadership.
One of the greatest rewards of being in the American military is the shared service, shared sacrifice, and shared pride in achieving our mission. Now as a nation, in our fight against Covid, we are really all in this together. We cannot move forward until the majority of our population voluntarily gets a vaccine. We have a shared mission. Every American who gets the vaccine is a leader and should encourage others to do so. I am excited to get my 17th and 18th vaccinations, two Covid shots spaced four weeks apart, knowing they are helping our nation as a team to defeat Covid forever.