The Covid vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) have been in use for nearly a year now and have proven to be safe and effective. Despite this, there is still significant hesitancy and, in some places, outright resistance to getting a Covid vaccine. This remains true across RPM’s U.S. operations, where our data indicates that vaccination rates are between 50% and 60%. While we do not have enough data to estimate the company’s vaccine uptake in other parts of the world, I would speculate that our associates’ vaccination rates are similar to the rates of the countries where they live. In my opinion, vaccinations across RPM and around the world ought to be nearly 100% so that we can save lives and end this global health crisis. As a result, I would like to share with you some facts and perspectives that I hope will encourage you to get fully vaccinated.
At an August 2021 leadership development program, in partnership with the U.S. Army War College, a group of 20 RPM associates were joined by retired General John Abizaid, who was just back from his role as the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Prior to being appointed ambassador, General Abizaid served nine years on the RPM Board of Directors. When one of our participants asked General Abizaid his view on the pending U.S. Defense Department order mandating that all active-duty personnel be vaccinated, he said, “The United States Army has been putting vaccines in soldiers since vaccines were invented, all the way back to George Washington in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.” He added, “Prior to Covid, new recruits to the Army received three things before they entered Basic Training – a uniform kit, a haircut, and five shots in the arm.” General Abizaid further informed our group that U.S. military personnel deployed around the world often received as many as 12 different vaccines.
For more than 200 years, vaccines have proven highly effective at controlling or, in some cases, eliminating highly infectious diseases. In the process, they have saved lives and improved public health. Consider polio, which was one of the most feared diseases of its time. In 1952, it peaked in the U.S., infecting 57,628 people that year, killing 3,145 and leaving 21,269 with mild to disabling paralysis. Thanks to the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines, as well as mass immunization, cases dropped to 5,600 in 1957 and only 161 in 1961. Since 1979, polio has been completely eradicated in the U.S. Today, it only exists among the world's poorest and most marginalized communities. The measles, which was more deadly than polio, followed a similarly dramatic decline following the introduction of a vaccine in 1963.
At this stage, we all know somebody who has had Covid and likely know somebody who was hospitalized or even died from the virus. Over the last 15 months, we have had nearly 2,000 RPM associates worldwide become infected with Covid. Sadly, two dozen of them or their immediate family members have died. We have tracked Covid infections and quarantines every week across all our operating companies and groups around the world. We have seen trends in infections, hospitalizations and deaths rise and fall. Due to the Covid Delta variant, these trends are once again on the rise.
Recently the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic shared a video in which its experts discussed another Covid surge. While this video was specifically for the Cleveland Clinic caregiver community, its information and message, particularly about vaccines, is instructive and important. I urge you to watch it and share it.
This is not about politics; it is about public health and the health of you and your family members. While RPM does not plan any Covid vaccine mandates at this time, we are continuing to allow our leaders across the globe to make decisions about vaccinations, masks and other Covid-related health and safety protocols appropriate to their location.
From a leadership perspective, we have mandated that all in-person participants at RPM Board of Directors meetings, leadership development meetings, annual Global Leadership Meeting, and other similar events be fully vaccinated. This policy allows us to get back to the very important personal interactions and engagement at these meetings, while allowing all participants some level of comfort knowing that everyone involved is vaccinated. In response to the few complaints that I have received about this policy, I have a simple perspective: “The funny thing about leadership is, sometimes you have to lead.”
I am certain that in the next year or so, we as an organization, and the world in general, will get through this Covid pandemic. It will be accomplished through a combination of mass vaccinations, natural immunity built by those who become infected and recover, and, sadly, by the deaths of those who remain unvaccinated and are most susceptible to the disease.
I urge you to get vaccinated. By doing so, we can all help minimize the further harm and death that Covid will cause to our families, friends, colleagues and communities until it runs its course.
Chairman and CEO