I knew this would not be an easy job
How Lemuel Lucas helped colleagues overcome vaccine hesitancy in the Philippines
Meet Lemuel, one of our 2021 Unilever Heroes. Every year, in the Heroes Awards, we recognise a handful of employees who have gone above and beyond their day job. Against the difficulties of the last 12 months, their stories are even more remarkable, bringing help and hope to communities around the world. We are deeply proud of them.
Despite lockdowns and periods of quarantine, Covid has taken a heavy toll in the Philippines. The large population, overloaded hospitals and workplace outbreaks around the country have all contributed to the severity of the pandemic here. And the low levels of vaccination worsened the problem.
“Like the rest of the world, Covid hit us hard here in the Philippines,” explains Lemuel Lucas, who works in HR in Unilever’s Taguig (Metro Manila) office as Country Head of Employee Experience. “On top of that, we had a lot of hesitancy around the vaccine. I really felt something had to be done.”
Vaccines were being imported into the country, but reaching the population was a problem in itself and overcoming fears as to vaccine safety and side effects was harder still.
Vaccine hesitancy is high in the Philippines. show that Filipinos are hesitant to receive Covid-19 vaccines, with almost half not willing or unsure whether they should be vaccinated. And the level of hesitancy is higher in the Philippines than in other countries in the region.
So Lemuel took on the role of vaccine squad lead within Unilever. With his colleagues, he developed a communications campaign to tackle hesitancy. “It was a real challenge to change people’s mindsets,” he recalls. In order to encourage take-up, he organised a virtual programme of guest speakers, who included Dr Tony Leachon, a health reform advocate and chairperson of the local ‘Movement against Covid’.
An internal campaign called the Unilever Vacci-Nation programme was launched, and people were reached through the WhatsApp and Viber platforms – Viber is widely used by employees in the factories – and via email, with clear answers to their concerns.
Employees who wanted to sign up to vaccination could opt for the company vaccination programme or the local government programme. Together with colleagues from Procurement, Legal and Finance, Lemuel secured a third-party medical provider to roll out vaccination internally with company-purchased vaccines. But in such a large country, nothing was easy, and there were administrative and logistical issues to overcome in order to ensure all employees were reached.
A duty to care for others
During the pandemic, Lemuel has co-ordinated Unilever’s Covid response locally, liaising with the company’s healthcare provider and offering practical advice to employees affected by the pandemic and their families. He has lost count of the long hours spent working – often at night – to organise help for others.
What motivated him? “It was a duty of care that is not only part of Unilever but is also extra-evident here in the Philippines,” he explains. “We have a local term in Tagalog called ‘malasakit’, which means exercising deep concern and care for each other. This type of concern is part of our culture.” And with Covid widespread in the country at the time, Lemuel, like so many others, had friends and family who were affected, and he developed a strong empathy for Covid sufferers, whether they were known to him personally or not.
His heavy workload was often at the expense of family life (he has four daughters under eight), but his priorities were always with his Covid-related work – “it was a matter of life and death”.
Over 90% vaccinated
Thanks to the efforts of Lemuel and his team, 93% of Unilever employees in the Philippines have been vaccinated, far exceeding the original target of 70%. This vaccine work is on top of his day job where he and his team help with contact tracing, offer support to employees who are battling Covid, help secure hospital beds and provide bereavement support to families of employees who, sadly, have died.
“I knew this would not be an easy job,” says Lemuel. “But my purpose is to be a leader who serves others and being part of this team will be my legacy.”
He is humbled by the Heroes 2021 award, he says, and insists on sharing the credit with the wider team. “There were a lot of people involved beside me,” he stresses.
And Lemuel pays tribute to his wife who supported him through this disrupted period and to his oldest daughter, aged seven. When his daughter learnt of the award, “she told me to keep up the good work,” he adds.