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How to Talk to Employees Hesitant About the COVID Vaccine

Our bet: getting vaccinated is contagious.

Now that all U.S. adults are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine, we’re getting to the point where many of those wanting to get vaccinated have. But there’s still 30% of people who are open but unsure about getting a vaccine. And it’s also up to employers to communicate frequently and accurately about them to their workforce.

And here’s why: “The more people see those around them get vaccinated, particularly family and friends, the more comfortable they become with getting vaccinated themselves,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said during a recent White House briefing.

Add that to the fact that business leaders are some of the most trusted sources of information, beating out government officials and the media, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. The study found that, as overall trust has eroded during the pandemic, people see businesses as more trustworthy, ethical and competent than the government or media. 

So, what does this mean for you?

Well, for starters, you’ve got to have a solid vaccine communications plan.

Despite more than half of U.S. adults receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said that hospitalizations and cases among younger, unvaccinated people are increasing in some places.

To increase vaccine confidence, the team at the Ad Council said they’re focusing their efforts on “the moveable middle,” those who are still on the fence about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. 

"Because this is the biggest issue of our lifetime, we knew we had to build a really big tent,” Ad Council President and CEO Lisa Sherman said during a recent Health Action Alliance town hall. “We knew the business community could play such a crucial role in this."

Partnering with physicians, faith leaders, medical providers and businesses, their multifaceted COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaign was designed to ensure people can access information and resources that would allow them to make their own informed, science-driven decisions about getting vaccinated.

We’ve also seen our partners using their communications channels to distribute timely and accurate information to their employees. For instance, Texas Roadhouse shared their tagline “Don’t hesitate, vaccinate!” on Hot Schedules, flyers for each of their locations, their internal support center and on-site digital screens.

And Bloomin’ Brands is using “vaccine champions” to encourage employee vaccine confidence as well as eye-catching graphics on employee portals, brand videos and a dashboard operators can use to measure company success. They’re also using the Zero Hour Health Vaccine Chat Line.

"Our people are our most important asset and we need to reach them where they are, especially on this very emotional topic,” Cathie Koch, told us during our April webinar. “Empathy has never been more important than it is today." 

So, how can you create your own vaccine communications plan? Here are some tips.

  1. Focus on the “persuadables”.
    Half of your employees are anxiously looking forward to or have already received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but data shows there are another 30% who are still undecided. Reaching them is your business' key to getting back to “normal”.

  2. Understand where they’re coming from.
    There are countless reasons why your employees might be on the fence about getting vaccinated. We’ve heard everything from religious beliefs and medical reasons to fear and general misinformation. Realize that making any kind of medical decision, including whether or not to get vaccinated, is so personal and may not be the same for everyone. Tailor your communications to address the range of issues that may be holding your staff back and empower managers to have these one-on-one conversations with their teams. This isn’t just a one-size-fits-all approach.

  3. Connect their goals to your cause.
    Connecting an issue to people’s aspirations opens up a dialogue. Tapping into employees’ ideas and emotions about the people they want to be or the world they want to live in can play a powerful role in driving our attitudes and behaviors toward a particular cause.

  4. Share stories.
    Stories are some of the most important currency of our time - it’s how we learn our language, values, history and more. Studies show that nonfiction stories, especially from trusted peers or leaders, can help us let our guard down and become more open to possibilities. Using Bloomin’ Brands’ approach of appointing vaccine ambassadors or champions may be helpful as you try to encourage more vaccine confidence within your workforce.

  5. Reduce barriers to entry.
    Sure, communication is hugely important in driving employee vaccinations, but so is access. Offering transportation, PTO or translation services are all good starts. Now that all U.S. adults are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, it might also be time to start thinking about offering on-site clinics, especially if booster doses are needed. We can help you arrange on-site workplace vaccination clinics. Call us to learn more.

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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.