When the news of an FDA approved Covid-19 vaccine was going to become available, I joined many with feelings of joy and hope. I envision a future where we can all live, work and play together again. Personally, I am tracking vaccine availability closely and I will be seizing the day when I can get a shot. Sign me up. I will be carping a whole lot of diem when this is over!
In the workplace, the expectation was that my staff and the workplaces we support would be equally excited about getting vaccinated. Unfortunately, we are hearing that’s not always the case. In fact, Dr. McKenna of Albany Medical Center believes that production of the vaccine will greatly improve, and supply will meet or exceed demand in the near future. One of his major concerns was the public’s resistance to getting vaccinated. He and public health officials know for these vaccines to truly turn the tide of the pandemic, there will need to be near universal willingness among Americans to get the shot.
It’s important to understand what’s behind the fear. According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Undefeated, some 70% of Black Americans believe that people are treated unfairly based on race or ethnicity when they seek medical care. Examples of malpractice and unauthorized experimentation are far from forgotten by the Black community The results of a Pew Research Center poll published earlier this month, in which only 42% of Black Americans said they would consider taking the vaccine, compared to 63% of Hispanic and 61% of White adults who would. This mistrust will impact the country’s ability to reach the goal of achieving the number needed to defeat the pandemic. It doesn’t help that the vaccine was developed in record breaking speed and we have little or no data on the long-term effects.
This will cause another workplace dilemma. We are beginning to hear, “I don’t trust the vaccine” or “I’m going to wait and see before getting vaccinated.” A friend of mine, who runs a large human services agency said up to 20% of her workforce is refusing to be vaccinated. What do employers do if employees are hesitant or refuse to get vaccinated?
It’s a workplace initiative that will require planning. Employers can:
· Begin with providing education and being transparent. Provide as much accurate information in a timely manner. Show that the research and the scientific community is trustworthy.
· Set an example by encouraging managers and business leaders to get vaccinated first making this visible to the employee population. Host live events where Black health professionals are at the forefront. Invite local leaders to promote the importance of getting vaccinated.
· Demonstrate management’s buy-in support of vaccinations by offering time to miss work to get vaccinated. Provide information on locations offering vaccinations. If available in the future, coordinate an on-site vaccine clinic at the workplace similar to hosting workplace flu shot clinics.
· Communicate the benefits of vaccines, disclose information about possible reactions from shots and assign a company coordinator for questions/concerns.
· Communicate the business necessity and if your organization is making vaccines a job requirement. EEOC guidelines say employers may require employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine, subject to certain legally protected exceptions for disability and sincerely held religious beliefs.
· Set a goal and show employees how their participation matters. Report the percentage of employees who have been vaccinated and show the improvement in numbers vaccinated.
· Encourage vaccinated employees to talk up/promote their positive experience after receiving the vaccine.
· Use incentives for Covid-19 vaccination participation, provide refreshments or holding a contest of highest percentage of vaccinated employees by department.
· Hang information posters, use intranet and social media posts in promotion of vaccines. Emphasize how everyone’s participation is a part of the common good.
Having a plan to confront possible distrust and encouraging Covid-19 vaccines should be a company imperative. The pandemic has been one of the most difficult events in our history. It has damaged our health, our schools, the workplace, and our economy. It has disproportionately impacted people of color. To rid our country from this deadly virus will be a dream come true for us all. We need to focus on how our individual participation is tied to the health of the entire country. We have a solution in front of us. Let us seize the day.