How to Encourage Employee Vaccinations in the Workplace

As states continue to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, employers with an in-person workforce must have a plan for approaching employee vaccinations.

Air Date: April 15, 2021

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Dr. Susan Garfield, Chief Public Health Officer, Ernst and Young, Dr. Nicole Shaffer, Senior Director of Colleague Wellness, Pfizer, Tina Sandri, SEO, Forest Hills of DC

As of April 19, 2021, every American adult is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. This marks significant progress in getting America and the rest of the world to herd immunity and containing the virus.

As the vaccines have been distributed since the end of last year, some employers, particularly in the healthcare industry, have been vaccinating their workers for months. Now that vaccinations are open to everyone in the workforce, organizations have found some challenges with implementing a post-vaccine environment. Some businesses are noticing employees are hesitant to receive the vaccine, while others have employees who are inquiring about privacy concerns

Based on a recent conversation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, here are three lessons from employers who have been vaccinating their workers for months.

Employers Must Address Vaccine Hesitancy With Information

Because of its rapid development and complicated science, many people are hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Employers are aware of this issue and are using it as an opportunity to open a dialogue with their employees and provide them with more information.

“Our focus was not less necessarily saying we have to hit herd immunity … it was more like let's have a conversation, so you understand what's going on,” said Tina Sandri, CEO of Forest Hills of DC, a retirement home whose staff is primarily minority-based.

“From December we took the approach of using weekly communications out to our workforce to talk about things like, ‘What is efficacy? What is effectiveness? What is messenger RNA? What is Warp Speed? How did it get made so quickly?’ … We talked about past atrocities and put them on the table [such as] Tuskegee and Henrietta Lacks because most of our workforces are African-American or African.”

By educating their employees and listening to them, Forest Hills of DC was able to vaccinate 80% of their workforce by April.

Organizations Need to Send the Message that Vaccines Are Part of the Social Contract for Public Good

In order to help ease questions about the vaccine and get people comfortable with receiving it, organizations need to frame the issue about being greater than the individual.

“We need folks to start thinking outside their own selves and look at the impact that their own behavior can have on others,” said Dr. Susan Garfield, chief public health officer for Ernst and Young.

Getting a vaccine isn't something that just keeps a single person safe; it keeps everyone they come in contact with protected as well.

“The reality of vaccination is it's one of our strongest social contracts in the context of health care,” Garfield continued. “Me getting vaccinated, especially as a relatively healthy person, is not only protecting me, my family, and my community, but it’s particularly protecting those most vulnerable around us, those with underlying health conditions or [who are] immunocompromised or pregnant or otherwise.”

“Employers and corporate citizens are doing a great job of reminding people that it's not just an individual action and positivity,” she added. “It's really a collective embrace of the public good.”

Privacy Surrounding Employee Vaccinations Needs to Be Treated With Respect

Many people are concerned that if they are declining to get the vaccine, they will be singled out and potentially dismissed from their workplace. On the other end, organizations are worried about the reaction if they choose to mandate their employees to get the vaccine. In order for both sides to find a resolution, there needs to be respect.

“[The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] did say back in December that we as employers have the ability to mandate the vaccine,” said Sandri. “When we were messaging out initially to our employees, we did explain to them very intentionally that we had a conversation within leadership and decided we chose not to pursue that out of compassion and respect for our workforce … We would like [them] to be informed and make an educated choice.”

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