Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, though the rollout across the U.S. so far has been somewhat hit and miss. On the positive side, over 30 million people – including many healthcare workers who very much need the protection the vaccine offers – have already gotten at least the first shot of the two-dose vaccine. However, reports are that vaccination isn’t going as smoothly in some states as it is in others.
President Biden has set a goal of getting 100 million Americans vaccinated in his first 100 days in office. To achieve that goal, the federal government and state governments will need to improve the distribution process and start getting more doses into arms – especially those of essential workers, older Americans and people at increased risk for severe COVID-19 health complications.
“Federal and state public health agencies are leading the charge on vaccination efforts. Employers have an important role to play as a partner in those efforts,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “All LIUNA signatory employers can do their part by encouraging workers to get vaccinated, communicating clearly about the benefits of the vaccine while dispelling misinformation and removing obstacles for workers.”
Proactive Steps for Employers to Support Workers Getting the Vaccine
- Educate employees and answer questions. Polling suggests about one in three Americans are reluctant to get the vaccine, for a variety of reasons. Acknowledge these concerns and provide educational materials to address them. The Fund’s article “Answering Your Questions About the COVID-19 Vaccines” responds to many common questions around the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine workers may be concerned about.
- Focus on why employees would want the vaccine, with an emphasis on worker health and the safety of their loved ones and coworkers. The key message here is “we are all in this together.”
- Encourage full vaccine participation. This is not a “one and done” effort – this is a two-step vaccine. Research shows a large percentage of people fail to get the second shot of vaccine courses. Send the message that getting the second dose is just as important as getting the first one.
- Send the message from multiple levels of the organization. If possible, share pictures or video of workers, supervisors and management getting the vaccine. This may help build trust among workers who are open to vaccination but reluctant to be the first ones in a group to get vaccinated.
- In states where it’s an option, help employees pre-register for the vaccine so they can receive it quickly once it becomes available. Share locations of where vaccines are being administered in your area.
- Offer scheduling flexibility, such as staggered shifts, to make it easier for workers to get vaccinated. If vaccination needs to occur during work hours, pay workers for the time it takes to get vaccinated. Workers who don’t have to choose between getting paid and getting vaccinated will be more likely to get the vaccine.
Employers that take these steps can help drive demand for the vaccine, support behaviors that lead to people getting vaccinated and overcome reluctance on the part of workers.
Potential Issues Related to Mandatory Vaccination Policies
One of the biggest discussions around vaccination so far has been whether employers can require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) essentially confirmed that employers can mandate vaccination if a worker poses a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.” However, there are other considerations, including the possibility that workers may refuse the vaccine on religious or other grounds. Employers should consult their HR team or legal counsel before implementing any policy that could potentially violate workers’ rights under EEOC laws.
The LHSFNA wholeheartedly supports vaccination efforts and encourages all workers to get the vaccine once it becomes available to them. Although employers can generally require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine, there’s really no benefit to making that decision until the vaccine becomes more widely available. Before making any mandate, spend time educating employees who may be reluctant to get the vaccine. Health experts anticipate that vaccine acceptance will rise over time as more doses are distributed and people see proof that the vaccine is safe and effective.
The most important steps employers can take right now are to educate workers about the vaccine and make all efforts to encourage vaccination. Employers should also maintain the safety protocols already in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing facial coverings, implementing physical distancing and supporting good hygiene practices in the workplace.